Weapon-free zones not allowed at Oregon’s community colleges

Oregon community college administrators are striving to tighten security after the mass shootings at one of the two-year schools. But they can’t arm their own guards or remove someone who appears on campus with a gun.

Umpqua Community College, the Roseburg school where nine people and the gunman died and nine more were wounded Oct. 1, posts only one security guard armed with pepper spray on its 100-acre campus.

That’s typical of community colleges with similar enrollments across the state, said Abby Lee, a public information officer at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, near Oregon’s border with Idaho.

Lee said Treasure Valley has a full-time security director and six part-time campus officers, none of whom carries a gun.

Administrators have directed officers to patrol buildings and become more visible since the shootings at Umpqua. But Lee said her school has received conflicting legal advice on its weapons-free policy, which bans firearms including guns carried by students, faculty members and employees who have concealed-weapons permits.

“There’s not a community college that isn’t reviewing its policies and procedures,” she said. “We’re still very much reeling. We’re all looking for answers, trying to find that one answer that would have prevented this.”

State law does not allow the two-year colleges to form police departments staffed with armed, state-certified law enforcement officers. Weapons-free zones declared by many school administrators are riddled with exceptions that immobilize officers confronted by gun-toting strangers.

Legislators in key positions to change the law to permit two-year colleges to shift from stationing security guards to deploying certified police officers carrying firearms show no intention of forcing the issue. Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, who chairs the interim Judiciary Committee, said he plans to bring community college leaders together to hear their opinions and discuss whether their schools should gain that authority, which public four-year universities already have.

“We have legislative days set for November and January, and this is one of those issues that we definitely want to look at in great detail,” said Prozanski, who survived a recall campaign this year after the Legislature expanded background checks on gun sales. “But we will not want to rush this process.”

Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, also doesn’t want to hurry through changes, but may favor a minor budget increase to boost community-college security staffing. Legislators raised Oregon community-college funding in their last session, but money remains tight. The $550 million appropriated for 2015-2017 remains about $20 million short of pre-recession support when adjusted for inflation.

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