Even with a ban on carrying guns to campus overturned in court this week, Oregon’s public university campuses will be kept safe, say state university officials.
A three-judge panel from the Oregon Court of Appeals announced Wednesday that an administrative rule allowing the Oregon University System to effectively ban concealed weapons on the state’s seven public campuses was invalid. The panel unanimously decided that only the state legislature can regulate the possession or use of firearms.
OUS chancellor George Pernsteiner said in a release Wednesday the university system was “disappointed” in the decision.
“Our greatest concern is for the safety of our students and the entire campus community. Whether accidental or intentional, firearms violence continues to hurt or kill thousands of Americans each year in this country,” he said.
OSU spokesperson Todd Simmons concurred with Pernsteiner, adding that college campuses pose unique safety challenges due to their geographic size, openness and overall large number of students and staff.
“We have many more people coming and going on campuses than a K-12 setting might expect to see,” he said. “You cannot lock down access to our campuses.”
Di Saunders, Oregon University System spokesperson, said it’s unclear whether OUS will appeal the court’s decision, but she said they’ll investigate ways to keep weapons off campus.
And while the university system undergoes talks to determine policy in light of the court’s decision, OSU’s public safety director, Jack Rogers, said the department of public safety and Oregon State Police will contact any groups or individuals who reportedly possess a weapon and are acting in a suspicious manner.
“Anytime we get a report of someone who’s armed on this campus, we’re going to at east check it out,” he said. “We’d be negligent if we didn’t follow up.”
Extra security has been a priority for universities nationwide since after April 16, 2007. That was when student Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., in two shooting incidents two hours apart, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 25 others before committing suicide.
OSU’s response to the shooting was to organize an emergency alert system that contacts faculty, staff and students in case of such an emergency. Students and employees must register their phone numbers and email addresses with the system to be contacted.
Along with the alert system, in the summer of 2010 the university installed 120 red emergency telephones in classrooms throughout campus.
But Saunders said the administrative rule allowing universities to keep weapons off campus was in place long before the Virginia Tech tragedy. It was enacted in the late 1970s and revised in 1991.
The appeals court decision stems from a lawsuit filed by the Oregon Firearms Educational Foundation on behalf of Jeff Maxwell of Lebanon, who was detained by Monmouth police and suspended from Western Oregon University in 2009 for carrying a knife on campus and having an unloaded rifle in his pickup parked on campus.
Maxwell, who had a concealed weapon license at the time of the suspension, also was carrying a loaded pistol at the time, but his suspension was due to the discovered knife and rifle.
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