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Teacher loses appeal to carry gun at school

Medford teacher Shirley Katz, who was denied permission to take her handgun to South Medford High School, has lost her appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The court opinion, issued Wednesday by Judge Jack Landau, upheld a November 2007 decision by the Jackson County Circuit Court that affirmed the Medford School District's authority to prohibit employees from carrying firearms on school grounds.

"I'm disappointed, obviously," Katz said. "I am surprised. I never thought they would uphold it."

Katz had argued that state law allows people with concealed handgun licenses to carry guns in public buildings, including public schools, and that only the state Legislature has the authority to change that.

The Jackson County court, however, concluded in its 2007 decision that the school district's policy forbidding employees from carrying guns on campuses was not subject to the state law that bars cities and other local governments from regulating guns. An employee policy doesn't amount to an ordinance, which would apply to everyone, the court ruled.

Katz appealed the ruling, and the case was argued again in April before the appeals court.

"I think the appeals court followed the district's position," said the school district's attorney, Tim Gerking. "We are really happy about it."

Katz has 35 days to decide whether she wants to appeal Wednesday's ruling to the Oregon Supreme Court, said her attorney, James Leuenberger. So far, the Oregon Firearms Educational Foundation has been paying all of her legal expenses associated with the suit, including about $8,000 in his attorney fees, Leuenberger said.

"I don't know what we are going to do at this point," Katz said. "It's really frustrating."

Katz has a concealed handgun permit issued by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

Katz had said she wanted to carry her Glock 19, a 9 mm pistol, to protect herself against threats from her ex-husband but also said she believes all teachers should be allowed to carry guns to defend against intruders. The ex-husband denied the allegations, but a judge granted a restraining order against him that expired in September 2007. The restraining order was not renewed.

The appeals court took seven months to decide on Katz' appeal and issued an unusually long opinion on it, Gerking said.

"This was a controversial issue," Gerking said. "The panel covered every conceivable lead."

Leuenberger said the appeals court read the language of the law too narrowly.

"We think it should be read more broadly," Leuenberger said. "There can be no regulation of firearms in any matter whatsoever except by the legislative assembly."

Since the November 2007 ruling, the Medford School Board and other school districts have asked the Legislature to clarify the law, but lawmakers so far have not done so.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.