Guns in schools and community colleges - state and federal laws
In light of the tragedy at Umpqua Community College in 2015, many community colleges and school districts have questions about weapons and weapons policy.
A number of conflicts and exemptions exist between state and federal laws. But in general, open carry of a firearm is legal in Oregon (except when regulated, as noted below). Oregon law also provides that a person may obtain a license for a concealed firearm, and effectively schools or community colleges cannot legally prevent the license bearer (employees and volunteers are exceptions) from entering campus with a concealed weapon.
For K-12 school districts, federal laws prohibit gun possession within 1,000 feet of the school grounds. There is a specific exception, however, for those authorized under state law – Oregon has such a law – to possess a firearm. Community colleges are not subject to this federal law, and are governed by state law instead.
Under Oregon law, cities or counties may adopt ordinances to regulate, restrict, or prohibit the possession of loaded firearms in public places, see Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 166.173. A school is defined as a public place under ORS 161.015. But any ordinances adopted by cities or counties do not apply to certain groups, including those licensed to carry a concealed handgun, under ORS 166.173(2). Localities that regulate non-licensed open carry of loaded firearms in public places currently include Astoria, Beaverton, Independence, Newport, Oregon City, Portland, Salem, Tigard and Multnomah County. These local ordinances may provide guidance for these areas.
Oregon law (ORS 166.370) prohibits the possession of a firearm or dangerous weapons while in a public building. But once again, the law provides an exception for concealed firearms license holders. The definition of a public building includes community college campuses.The law also allows community colleges broad authority to regulate their property. Thus, many community colleges have established weapons policies that prohibit firearms, with an exception for concealed handgun licenses. Some community colleges have adopted policies that prohibit all firearms on campuses. To date, those policies have not been widely challenged in the courts. Oregon law (ORS 341.290) specifically allows community college boards the broad authority to govern their campuses and to adopt policies. This area of the law is complicated and may change. Any specific questions should be discussed with legal counsel. OSBA is providing all information as general knowledge only, and it is not intended as specific legal guidance to individual members.