Getting it right on guns

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board October 31, 2011 06:11 pm

The Baker School District has returned to solid legal ground in its effort to restrict who can bring guns and other weapons on school grounds or to school-sponsored events.

Last month the school board was considering a policy written by the Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA).

That policy runs afoul of both state and federal laws because it would prohibit anyone, save for police, from bringing a licensed, concealed handgun to a school.

A 2009 Oregon court ruling gives school district the authority to ban its employees and contractors from carrying a gun on school grounds — including people who have a concealed handgun permit.

But that ruling does not apply to anyone else. A second Oregon judicial decision, handed down last month, reiterates that such policies can apply only to employees and contractors.

Rather than adopt the OSBA policy, the Baker School Board has endorsed an administrative rule written by district staff.

The rule specifies that “employees, district contractors and/or their employees” are prohibited from carrying a gun on school property or at school-sponsored events.

This rule, although legally sound, could be more clear.

Specifically, the rule should, but does not, note that people who are neither employees nor contractors have the legal right to carry a concealed handgun on school grounds if they have a valid permit.

The district does address this point in a frequently asked questions addendum.

But a reasonable person, even after carefully reading the rule, might well conclude that except for cops, no one who has a concealed handgun permit can carry a pistol on school grounds.

For instance, the rule cites the federal Gun-Free School Zone Act, which prohibits “possession or discharge of a firearm in a school zone.”

But the rule doesn’t tell the whole tale. That same federal law also specifically exempts people who have a concealed handgun permit.

We applaud the school district for recognizing that the OSBA policy is fraught with legal peril.

But we see no good reason why the district doesn’t make it clear, in its weapons rules rather than a FAQ, who can and who can’t carry a concealed handgun. Surely district officials and board members know this is a matter of great concern to residents who, as we were, were troubled by the district’s initial foray into this topic.