EUGENE — Lawyers for the Medford School District and a teacher who wanted to bring a concealed handgun to school made their arguments before the Oregon Court of Appeals Monday. (See correction note below)
Shirley Katz appealed a Jackson County Circuit Court decision that the school district's policy barring guns on campus was not covered by a state law that bars cities and other governmental districts from regulating guns because it was not an ordinance.
Katz obtained a concealed handgun license. (See correction note below) She said threats from her former husband made her fear for her personal safety, but the husband has denied the allegations. School district administrators told her she could not bring the gun to school because she would be violating the district policy that prevents firearms on campus.
Tim Gerking, who argued the case for the Medford School District, said the three-judge panel questioned him and Katz's attorney, James Leuenberger of Lake Oswego, on the meaning of words such as "regulate" because the statute gives the Legislature sole authority to regulate firearms.
Gerking said the school district's argument continues to be that "regulate" means the passage of laws that apply to the general public, but that doesn't include an organization's internal safety policies.
Leuenberger said in an interview Monday evening his interpretation of the law is that it allows people with handgun licenses to carry a gun in any public building except a courthouse.
He said the law designates the Legislature as the only government entity in Oregon that can develop firearms law and policy.
Leuenberger said Judge David Schuman said he wished the Legislature would address the ambiguity in the statutes before the session ends in June, and renders the case moot.
Both Leuenberger and Gerking said they had never heard a judge make such a comment in court.
The appeal was heard in the mock courtroom at the University of Oregon law school, and the room was filled with law students. The Court of Appeals sometimes goes on the road to hear cases to give the public an opportunity to see the workings of the judicial system.
Gerking said "friends of the court" briefs were filed in support of the Medford School District by the Oregon School Boards Association, the Oregon Department of Justice and a Portland lawyer who filed the brief for the Portland public schools and Portland Community College.
In appellate cases, the judges can affirm a lower-court decision in as little as three weeks if they choose not to write an opinion. They also can choose to affirm the lower court with a written opinion, or reverse the lower court, which also requires a written opinion. Opinions typically take at least six months to produce, Gerking said.
Medford Superintendent Phil Long said the Legislature should ultimately resolve the issue by providing more clarity on concealed firearms. In the meantime, he said, the district would continue to "set processes and policies that keep our staff as safe as possible."
Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: The original version of this story included an incorrect day for the hearing. This version has been corrected. Also, the original version included a reference to Katz bringing the gun to school. That reference was removed in this story because she never publicly acknowledged bringing the weapon to school.