Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to interview Shirley Katz, the teacher from Oregon who is in the process of suing her school district over their policy which prohibits teachers that have valid CCW permits from carrying to the school. Her primary point in the lawsuit is that the school district’s policy is in violation of Oregon law – the law states that CCW holders can carry in public buildings.
My first question to Shirley was a specific, why did she choose to carry a firearm instead of a form of non-lethal defense, such as pepper spray, or a taser?
Shirley: “I felt that this would have been the only way to really solve it, if it came down to it”, where “it” would be her ex-husband, who has a history of violence, acting violently towards her or her son. On the next question, she talked about her restraining orders against her ex husband, the most recent of which expired on Sep 11th, 2007. Apparently, despite her instructions to do otherwise, her attorney failed to act in a timely fashion and renew the order.
After that, we moved into the basis for the lawsuit. Shirley is aware that the Oregon law is on her side, but that alone was not the primary motivator for her lawsuit. She actually detailed several reasons for taking her current course of action.
1. Currently, her school is in budget crunch, and has stated in court that the safety measures they have provided are adequate to provide for the safety and security of their students and staff.
2. There is a certain amount of vulnerability that she felt, following the VA Tech shooting; how would she protect herself or her students in that situation? The campus where she works is “wide open” and “totally unsafe for students”.
One of the more interesting points of the conversation came up here; Shirley mentioned that teachers have always been carrying concealed, across the country, and that most of the time there is an unspoken “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy about it. Shirley also stated that one of the reasons she believes that her district is pushing back so hard on this issue is to distract attention from their budget issue. Now she is striving to have the school board’s “no guns” policy recognized as invalid.
The school that Shirley works in has some security cameras, which according to the rumor mill are not always functional. Additionally, there are two full time security officers for a population of 2100 students, and one of the officers is responsible for multiple schools in the area. To this time in October, Shirley said she had seen one of the security officers one time, and the other she hasn’t seen at all.
We switched gears off the political/legal issues for a bit, and did a little talking about guns. Shirley told me that her carry gun is a Glock 19, which she picked on the advice of the owner of Good Guys Guns in Medford, Oregon. I’m really happy to hear about her experience there – it’s excellent to hear about gun shops welcoming people in and offering advice and sharing knowledge.
After that, we dovetailed into the issue of teachers carrying firearms – one of the concerns that people often bring up is that “armed teachers” aren’t qualified to carry a firearm in class, that they don’t have the training necessary. I asked Shirley about the process an Oregon resident has to go through to get a concealed carry permit.
In Oregon, you have to take a class specifically on concealed carry, which stresses safety, as well as appropriate times to use your gun. The permit process also involves a rigorous background check conducted by local law enforcement officials and the State police.
When we talked about the possibility of other teachers carrying, Shirley mentioned again that right now teachers do carry, but they do it without the knowledge of their administration, or their administration looks the other way. She feels that if teachers carrying concealed was out in the open, with the knowledge of the administration, that they would be able to incorporate legally armed and trained staff members into emergency response situations.
I made the comparison to the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, which despite its flaws and faults, does allow airline pilots to carry firearms on board their planes. I’ve always thought it was a good program, and I do believe, as does Shirley, that a similar program for school teachers would be an excellent idea. She made the comparison to continuing education: “…as an educator here in Oregon, we are required as teachers to continue coursework. It’s not one of those things where you get a degree, and you’re done. I view owning a gun the same way; it requires continuous practice or otherwise you lose your skill, it requires additional training”. That’s a strong comparison, as by continually training and strengthening your skills, you’ll be better prepared as a teacher, or to defend your life.
I closed with a question that I thought would be a softball; and I was getting ready to close the interview – I asked her if she was a member of the NRA. She said she was, and then mentioned that she’s disappointed with the NRA’s lack of response. They haven’t made any mention of public support for Shirley, and I have to agree that I’m disappointed with that.
At the same time, I do sort of understand why they haven’t – the issue of “guns in school” and “armed teachers” is a serious powder keg issue, and there are a lot of people that just freak out when it gets brought up. So for the NRA, it’s a dangerous political issue, and it’s hard for them to come out in support of it. That being said, as much as I understand why they’re not supporting it, I wish that they were.
Shirley Katz is taking a bold step here – like I’ve said, schools and guns is a pretty divisive issue for a lot of people, and there has been a lot of dogma built up about it just in my lifetime. I feel that if she wins her case, it would be a huge step forward for the gun rights movement nationwide. She makes a good public face for this case – she’s just a regular person with a regular job, just like you and me.