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Guns at Chemeketa?

A concealed firearm carried by an anonymous person. Photo by Mary Primbs.

Your fellow students or staff members may be armed.

Under state and federal law, students on Oregon’s public college and university campuses, including community colleges, are allowed to carry concealed handguns if they possess a valid license to do so.

After hearing the 2011 case of Oregon Firearms Federation v. Board of Higher Education and Oregon University System, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the the Oregon University System (OUS) could not prohibit the concealed carry of firearms from the state’s seven college and university campuses, but it could restrict areas where those firearms are allowed. As a result of that ruling, The OUS did implement a restriction on certain areas where firearms are permitted such as classrooms and auditoriums. Oregon’s 17 community colleges are not part of the OUS and are therefore not subject to that ruling. Although Chemeketa could place its own restrictions on areas where concealed carry is permitted, it has not.

The college’s policy states that “the possession of any firearm, taser, knife with a blade exceeding four (4) inches or illegal weapon, is prohibited on Chemeketa Community College property or college controlled property, in accordance with both State and Federal law. [ORS Chapter 166.170-166.663 and 18 U.S.C.§ 922 & 5861] Law enforcement officers are exempt from this policy. The college president/chief executive officer or designee, may grant other exemptions for example educational, training or safety purposes.”

Some faculty members feel that Chemeketa’s written policy on weapons is vaguely written and could be construed as confusing. Justus Ballard, an English and film arts instructor and the president of the Chemeketa Faculty Association, is one of those members.

“It’s not entirely clear that the college permits concealed weapons, because that’s buried in the ‘in accordance with both state and federal law’ portion of the policy,” he said. “So the policy as stated, as most people would read it who are unfamiliar, would believe that no weapons are permitted on campus.”

According to Traci Hodgson, a history instructor and the Vice-President of the Chemeketa Faculty Association, the information some faculty members have received from the college regarding campus carry has been less than transparent.

“I’m a big advocate for transparency; whether you agree with it or not, you need to know what the policy is,” she said.

Hodgson said at one time the faculty was told by college administrators that students could carry concealed handguns, but that faculty members could not. After speaking with Director of Public Safety Bill Kohlmeyer, Hodgson sent out a faculty-wide email clarifying the college’s policy that faculty could in fact carry if they had a valid license to do so. She said that the email was sent out in response to the concerns the faculty had after the shooting at Umpqua Community College.

“I believe the college administrators want to limit the amount of weapons on campus and are carefully choosing their words to encourage that reality. It does seem to get down to what is actually allowed, you need to have about two or three conversations with administrators,” she said.

Cliff Munson, a fire suppression instructor at Chemeketa’s Brooks Training Center and a retired member of the United States Marine Corps, said that while he doesn’t necessarily like the way the policy is written, he believes the college’s policy is one of the best. “I understood it; I’m of reasonable intelligence,” he said. “I can read and I think anybody who reads English and cares enough to look into it would understand what the college is saying. I don’t think there is a campus that has a better policy than Chemeketa.”

But not everyone is comfortable with the idea of firearms being present on campus.

“I am opposed to people carrying concealed weapons on campus and actually in general, because one of my goals in life is to not get shot,” Ballard said. “Generally, when nobody around me has a gun, that is a zero percent chance of me getting shot and a 100% chance of me meeting my goal of not getting shot. Generally the two [types of] people that carry guns are either scared or excited about being able to use a gun. Neither of those people are generally safe people to be around, so safety is directly impacted by anyone carrying a gun, for whatever reason.”

Munson believes the college would not be safer if concealed carry was prohibited and compared the prohibition of guns on campus to the prohibition of women on campus.

“Could the board of education come up with a policy banning females from campus? And if they did, would that be constitutional? No, of course not,” he said. “There is no such thing as a gun-free zone. It doesn’t exist; It can’t exist. It is naive and childish to believe that [shooters] are going to say, ‘Well I was going to go and shoot 25 to 30 people today, but it’s a gun-free zone so I probably shouldn’t because I may get in trouble. Gun-free zones are also called target-rich environments. If you were wanting to do ill to somebody, if you put yourself in the place of the bad guy or the shooter for a moment, would you go to some place where you knew they were defenseless so you could hurt as many people as possible or would you pick out a police station or a Marine Corps base to go shoot at? This is a cliche, but the only thing that is going to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

According to Kohlmeyer, the position the college has taken regarding any legal carry of guns is that if it is disruptive in any way to the learning process, then the offender, be it a student, an employee, or a faculty member, will not be allowed to carry, concealed or not.

“The college has a policy, and we’re pretty serious about it,” Kohlmeyer said. “Anything that disrupts the educational process is a violation of our policy. I don’t care what it is: It could be somebody playing a bugle outside of the room. If it’s disrupting the educational process, it’s a problem. I can’t think of very many things that would be more disruptive than somebody walking around with a gun, visible. That would be big-time disruptive. I would approach that situation as you’re disrupting the educational process, and you need to go put that gun away or you need to leave campus. You could be arrested for trespassing; it wouldn’t be for the gun, it would be for disrupting the educational process.”

Kohlmeyer said that he has had a few instances when a student saw another student carrying a concealed handgun on campus. When Kohlmeyer approached those individuals and spoke to them about their guns being visible, they all indicated they were sorry and said it would not happen again.

“I’ve never had a problem with somebody who has a concealed weapons permit: it’s the people who don’t,” he said.

No one knows exactly how many people may be carrying on Chemeketa’s campuses, and according to Kohlmeyer, that’s exactly how things should be.

“Concealed means concealed,” he said. “If you’re carrying a concealed weapon, nobody should know. There’s no reason in the world that you should announce it.”