Monday, September 17, 2007

Menacing in Medford

By now you have probably heard of the teacher in Medford, Oregon who has come afoul of her district's policies by arguing for the right to bring a firearm to campus. The case seems tailor-made to be a precedent setting case on several fronts, and as such has gotten attention from both pro- and anti-gun advocates.

Mercifully the facts in this case are pretty straight-forward and, apparently, not in dispute:

* The teacher in question has suffered long-term abuse from her spouse who has attacked her and threatened to kill her.
* The teacher has taken steps to protect herself by buying a handgun, learning how to use it, and getting a concealed permit to carry it.
* Her husband has a history of violence and lost his own concealed carry permit for menacing someone else.
* The teacher has asked for permission from the district to carry her firearm on school campuses, and in fact had an article in the September 16, 2007 Oregonian titled "A Loaded Question."

After the facts though, the situation gets muddy, and I haven't heard much explanation for the rest of the story. For instance, before ever asking for permission to bring her firearm to school, the teacher was summoned to her principal's office where she was confronted by her principal and a police officer and told if she had a firearm on her she would be fired. I have to wonder about this--how did the principal find out that she had a concealed carry permit? Did the police tell him on their own? This seems rather bizarre, and probably illegal.

At the case stands at the moment, the woman is being helped with her legal bills by The Oregon Firearms Federation (see "OFEF TO CHALLENGE ILLEGAL SCHOOL POLICY") The Sunday Oregonian carried Op-Ed pieces by Lars Larson (in favor of the teacher) and State Senator Ginny Burdick (D) (guess her position) who, as always, is using this opportunity to pursue her personal obsession in banning legally carried firearms from all school buildings (and, as always, helping Republicans raise money by invoking her name.)

To my mind, the real issue here is not about guns in schools. Schools are public buildings and, as Larson pointed out in his Op-Ed, concealed permit carriers are allowed by Oregon law to take their weapons into almost all public buildings, including schools. Further, there hasn't been a single instance of a visitor to a school endangering students because he or she has a concealed handgun. Ginny Burdick's regular protests against responsible gun-owners are the classic "solution in search of a problem."

The real problem is the husband--he created this mess and he should be the one penalized for it. The Medford school district is in a no-win situation driven by selective enforcement of the law. As soon as they learned the teacher had been threatened by her husband and had taken out a restraining order against him, the teacher should have been transferred to an administrative position regardless of whether she took out a permit or not. To not have done so seems to have already opened the district up to extensive liabilities if any students are injured as a result of the teacher's husband's action. This may seem unfair to the teacher and to the district, but it seems to be the best solution for the children in any such case.

As for the husband, he has assaulted his wife, threatened her life and threatened at least one other person with a firearm in the last year. Because his wife works at a school, he is a threat to the community's children and should be dealt with accordingly by the full force of the law. For starters, he should be charged with assault. He also needs an ankle-bracelet to track his movements. He should also be subject to a civil suit by his wife for denying her an income and by the district for denying them the use of an employee. If we need any new legislation, it would be to clarify that perpetrators of violence or threats of violence should be financially responsible for the results of their actions.

And finally, while I really don't think this case is about the broader question of whether guns should be allowed on school campuses, IT IS ABOUT the rights of employers to prohibit their employees from bringing guns to work. This raises other questions of fault and liability. Most, I would venture to see nearly all, employers have policies against employees bringing firearms to work. In some cases, these bans may have led to the deaths of employees who were unable to protect themselves against outraged spouses or angry co-workers (see the April archives for this blogsite for an example.)

The question is whether employers of any kind, not just schools, should continue to have the right to deny employees with valid concealed carry permits from carrying those firearms on the job. That is really the broader question of what this case is about: not whether the PUBLIC should be allowed to carry guns on campus (those with permits should) but whether EMPLOYEES at public or private institutions should be prohibited from bringing firearms into the workplace.

In the case of the Medford teacher, I think the solution that follows the law and common sense would be (1) lock up the husband and charge him in civil court as well as criminal court for the cost to the teacher and to the district his stupid behavior has cost them, (2) move the teacher to a job where she is not around children until the eminent threat of violence is gone. I don't personally see a problem with trained, emotionally stable people carrying guns where ever and whenever they please. But I do see a problem with having a teacher who is currently the target of a violent, dangerous stalker teaching children. I don't mind if teachers carry guns to school, but a teacher who rightfully fears she has become a bullet magnet shouldn't be in the classroom and I can't think of a parent I know who wouldn't agree with that.

Send any bills to the husband....when he gets out on parole.


Chuck Butcher said...

it's a quibble, but one with some actual outcomes; private employers are acting on their property and regarding their property, the school is public property. The bone of contention is the type of property it is in regard to her permit.

Do you mean to advoacate that a person's RTKB trumps property ownership? That question could get turned into a nasty fight.

Zak J. said...

I meant to recognize that there's a difference between allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry weapons on public property (on which I think Oregon law is clear--it's allowed) and saying that a public employer, like a school district, must allow it's own employees with permits to bring concealed firearms to work. I don't know what the law is in that case, but I imagine it's a different law for a different principle.

I think there's a good case to be made for employee rights to self defense trumping other rights, but it not so cut and dry and, yeah, arguments would be very long, complex and probably nasty.

I also think there's a big difference between qualified teachers quietly arming themselves with permitted concealed weapons and what's actually going on in Medford--in this case, the teacher is an identified target of a violent offender (who is apparently still on the district's approved list of substitute teachers!) Whether or not she chooses to (sensibly) arm herself, having her in the classroom at all is increasing the risk that students in her care will come to harm. It's not her fault, and the law should come down on the husband, but arming herself is only putting a band-aid over the real issue of student endangerment in this case.

Chuck Butcher said...

Seeing the state of the law regarding public property, the school is screwed. And should be.

My point wasn't about the school, it was the question of employees of private concerns. If it is my property, I get to say what you cannot have on your person, ie: alcohol is a legal substance, I can prohibit having it, same as a gun.