Oregon’s new gun policy draws blanks

Written by | March 12, 2012

Is the new policy really protecting anyone?

The Oregon State Board of Higher Education really wants to get guns off campuses. A hotly contested topic in the legislature, the debate for and against firearm control has seen many twists and turns. One such twist was the Oregon Court of Appeals ruling last September that the board did not have administrative authority to regulate guns on campuses. And recently, the State Senate rejected a bill banning guns on school and university campuses.

So, the latest action by the board on March 2, in a “we’ll show you” move, was to adopt a policy that prohibits guns on the campuses of all seven universities in Oregon, which includes Portland State. This applies to all students, employees, visitors and anyone engaged in business with the university.

They sidestepped the court’s original decision by using a loop hole. They just made it a policy decision—something they do have authority to do.

But, the problem is, it’s still legal.

So, if a student gets caught carrying a gun, they would be in violation of the school’s code of conduct, but not of the law. According to the code, firearm violations are considered High Level Offenses for which the first-time punishment is a $75 fine. If someone wants to bring a gun to school, is a petty fine going to change his or her mind? Probably not. As well-meaning as it is, without any legal ramifications, the new policy seems a bit pointless.

Currently there are 25 states that leave the decision up to the university, including Oregon. But, if there are no legal consequences, it’s like saying to the schools, “You can decide whatever you’d like, but we won’t do anything to support you.”

This isn’t unusual, though. Since the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech in which 33 people died, many states have considered relaxing laws against firearms on campuses to enable people to protect themselves. This sentiment has recently reared its head again following the school shootings in Pennsylvania and Ohio. It’s understandable that after such traumatic incidents the vulnerability of students would be of the utmost concern.

But letting everyone bring a gun to school is hardly the answer. In fact, after the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that left six people dead and nine wounded, the police chief at the University of Arizona insisted that it would worsen the situation. In an interview with The New York Times, he described the utter confusion there would be if officers arrived at a scene with scores of students with drawn weapons.

We need to know who the bad guys are.

When Mississippi passed a law allowing guns on campus, the stipulation was a voluntary course on safe firearm handling. How reassuring. When most states require only a one-day class for a gun permit, and some not even that, the idea that our classrooms would be filled with people who spend more time studying for their finals than how to fire a deadly weapon is horrifying.

So it’s not just a madman on a rampage that we need to worry about.

As one Los Angeles Times writer put it, “College students, many of whom are coming to terms with the pressures of romantic entanglements and academic expectations, also tend to abuse alcohol and drugs. Adding firearms to this volatile mix is a spectacularly bad idea.”

While the Board of Higher Education is trying to keep guns out of schools using whatever avenue they can (and should be applauded for it), resorting to policy is kind of like calling a policeman who’s been handcuffed. Not very effective.

What we really need is our State Senate to understand the insanity of making it legal for potentially thousands of people walking into our classrooms and cafeterias with guns. What more do they need to enact the law?

If they can unanimously pass such a crucial bill as House Bill 4170, which mandates that dogs can be trained in farmland zones, then surely they can decide that students can be “trained” in a safe, gun-free zone.

Let’s hope they do.

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