School board can't ban all guns

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board September 23, 2011 04:45 pm

We don’t question that the the Baker School Board, should it choose to do so, can enact a policy that prohibits its employees who have a license to carry a concealed handgun from bringing a pistol to work.

The district’s legal authority to impose such a restriction is clearly established in a 2009 case involving a Medford high school teacher.

Trouble is, the policy the Baker School Board is considering adopting goes well beyond that authority.

The policy, which the five-member board discussed Tuesday but has not officially passed, would prohibit not only employees, but also “district contractors and/or employees, patrons and district volunteers,” from bringing a gun or other “dangerous or deadly weapon” to school property or to a school-sponsored event regardless of where the event takes place.

The proposed policy specifically “includes those who may otherwise be permitted by law to carry such weapons.”

Both state and federal law explicitly forbid local entities, including school districts, from imposing such broad prohibitions on the possession of handguns in schools.

The federal Gun Free School Zones Act, for instance, bans people from bringing firearms to school zones. However, that law does not apply “if the individual possessing the firearm is licensed to do so by the state.”

Which means that a person who has an Oregon concealed handgun permit (these are issued by county sheriffs) is exempt from the federal law.

Oregon law states that local entities can enact ordinances restricting gun possession, but that those ordinances can’t apply to people “licensed to carry a concealed handgun.”

Baker Schools Superintendent Walt Wegener said the district, in what he termed an “oversight,” has never adopted a policy regarding guns and other weapons in schools.

He told board members Tuesday that the proposed policy was written and approved by lawyers representing the Oregon School Boards Association.

Wegener also said that during a recent OSBA conference, the association’s lawyers contended that the Medford case had settled the question about restricting guns in schools.

Well, sort of.

The Oregon Court of Appeals judgment in the Medford case upheld the authority of school districts to ban employees, including those with concealed handgun licenses, from bringing guns to school.

But that judgment did not overturn either the state or federal law that prohibits school districts and other local government bodies from extending a ban on guns to every person who has concealed handgun license.

Board member Mark Henderson rightly alerted his colleagues to this blatant flaw in the proposed weapons policy.

The board did approve the first of three readings of the policy.

Before board members officially adopt the policy, they need to amend the document, as Henderson suggested, to make it clear that any restriction on guns does not apply to non-employees who have a valid concealed handgun permit.

Approving the policy as it was written by the OSBA would be at best a waste of the board’s time.

At worst, passing the illegal policy could provoke a legal challenge that would cost the school district not only time, but something else which it can ill afford: money.