Teacher goes public in fight to pack pistol
Guns - Shirley Katz may not be alone; 25 teachers in Multnomah County hold concealed weapon permits
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
The Oregonian Staff
Jane Doe -- the Oregon schoolteacher who wants to carry a concealed pistol to class -- went public Tuesday with her identity in an attempt to keep her lawsuit against the Medford School District alive.
Shirley M. Katz, 44, teaches English at South Medford High School. At a slight 5 feet 7 inches tall, Katz says she still fears a former spouse and wants to assert what she believes is her right to carry a weapon on school grounds.
She originally filed the lawsuit as Jane Doe to protect her privacy. When the school district filed a motion to dismiss the case based in part on her anonymity, she changed her mind.
"I am definitely under the microscope," she said. "I had sought to avoid that (by remaining anonymous). My son goes to school here. My daughter is in the school system."
The lawsuit has set off alarms for school leaders statewide who are worried they will have to allow teachers with concealed handguns into schools if Katz prevails. Opposition comes from the state superintendent of public instruction to fellow teachers, while others in the state support Katz's right to carry a gun at school.
The possibility of more teachers carrying concealed handguns is real. The Oregonian found that at least 25 teachers out of about 6,700 working in Multnomah County -- the state's most populous -- have concealed handgun permits. While it is impossible to tell how many teachers actually pack pistols to class, most people who get the permits intend to use them on specific occasions, law enforcement experts say.
"It is a very small minority that use it so they can go armed 24 hours a day," said Lt. John Black of the Washington County Sheriff's Office. "It's more that people use them when they feel a threat."
Katz filed the lawsuit Sept. 18. Oral arguments are scheduled for Oct. 11 in Jackson County Circuit Court in Medford.
Her legal bills in the case are being paid by the Oregon Firearms Foundation, a pro-gun rights group. Although Katz is a member of the National Rifle Association, she said she is not acting on the NRA's behalf or receiving any money from the group.
Katz has been teaching for 21 years, the past seven in Medford, she said. Divorced last year, she has had two restraining orders against her former spouse, but the last one expired in September.
Her ex-husband, Gerry Katz, said Tuesday he is not a threat to his former wife. He said he once had worked as a substitute teacher in the Medford district, but now concentrated on his career as a professional photographer.
"I deny any accusations she has made, and I plan to prove it if it continues to be an issue," he said Tuesday. "I called the principal at the high school and told him there was no chance of there being any kind of violence."
The case is being closely watched. The Oregon School Boards Association plans to have an attorney present on Oct. 11 to listen in, said Dori Brattain, director of legal services for the association. While the group generally favors local control on this issue, she said, this case could have statewide repercussions.
"If we have a ruling come down that says Medford cannot ban their staff from carrying weapons, school boards will have to look at it," she said.
If Katz wins in court, her victory would apply only in Jackson County. The ruling would have to be appealed, then upheld by a state appellate court, for it to apply statewide, said James Leuenberger, Katz's attorney.
Concealed weapon permits are issued by the county sheriff in Oregon. Under state law, you can apply for and receive a concealed gun permit if you are a U.S. citizen, at least 21 and complete a gun safety course. Felons or people with misdemeanor convictions within the prior four years are not eligible.
A permit holder may carry a gun onto most public properties, including schools, without violating state law.
Private firms can ban handguns in the workplace. Although most -- if not all -- school districts ban teachers from bringing handguns to class, Katz is asserting in her lawsuit that the bans are in violation of state law.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo said she has testified in the Legislature in favor of a state law that would ban teachers from carrying guns at school, but without success. She said the pro-gun rights lobby consistently opposes such legislation.
"I don't see any reason to take a gun into any of our schools," Castillo said. "Prohibitions exist. The Rose Garden and the Memorial Coliseum have bans. . . . Why would we have a lower standard of safety for our schoolchildren than the Trail Blazers?"
The question is not academic.
The Oregonian's review of concealed handgun permits issued in Multnomah County showed that permit holders include administrators as well as classroom instructors.
Efforts to contact the 25 teachers -- about 40 percent of them women -- met with almost total silence.
One teacher with a permit returned an e-mail stating, "I want to stay as far away from (public discussion of the issue) as possible."
Approximately 12,000 people in Multnomah County have valid permits, county records show.
The Oregonian obtained a public database of Multnomah County permit holders from the sheriff. The newspaper then compared that list with a list of licensed teachers working in Multnomah County.
The list included 53 possible teachers with gun permits. The Oregonian could not confirm that all of the teachers were permit holders and reduced the number to 25. Either telephone calls or e-mails were sent to all of the teachers.
Of the 25 confirmed permit holders, 11 were women, five were elementary school teachers and three were administrators. All declined comment.
Staff writer Steve Suo of The Oregonian contributed to this report. Peter Sleeth: 503-294-4119; firstname.lastname@example.org