In the wake of the mass shooting at an Oregon community college, Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates claimed that the school was a “gun-free zone.” That’s not exactly accurate.
Umpqua Community College does have policies prohibiting guns on campus, but they “would not apply to those with valid concealed weapon permits pursuant to Oregon law,” a college official told us.
The Oct. 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, left 10 people dead, including the shooter. Trump, the Republican party’s leading candidate for president, was one of several GOP candidates who criticized the school’s policies on guns. He did so, for example, during an interview on “Fox and Friends Weekend” ( at the 2:25-minute mark).
Trump, Oct. 4: You know that was a gun-free zone in Oregon where they had no guns allowed, no nothing. So the only one that had the gun was the bad guy, and everybody was sitting there and there was nothing they could do. Not a thing they could do.
Mike Huckabee also used the “sitting duck” analogy in a tweet posted to his Twitter account a day after the shooting with the hashtag #UCCshooting. Carly Fiorina at an Oct. 2 press conference said about UCC: “This campus was a gun-free zone.”
The confusion is understandable. The school has two policies that prohibit weapons on campus under certain conditions.
The school’s student conduct policy states that students cannot carry a weapon “without written authorization.”
“Possession or use, without written authorization, of firearms, explosives, dangerous chemicals, substances, or any other weapons or destructive devices that are designed to or readily capable of causing physical injury, on College premises, at College-sponsored or supervised functions or at functions sponsored or participated in by the College” is prohibited, the student conduct policy states.
There is also a general prohibition on bringing weapons on campus “except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations.”
“Possession, use, or threatened use of firearms (including but not limited to BB guns, air guns, water pistols, and paint guns) ammunition, explosives, dangerous chemicals, or any other objects as weapons on college property, except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations, is prohibited,” the school says on a web page labeled “safety & security info.”
The state, however, has a 1989 concealed weapon law that conflicts with such gun bans. State law expressly states (in section 166.170) that the authority to regulate the possession of guns or “or any element relating to firearms” is “vested solely in the Legislative Assembly.”
As often happens in these cases, the conflict was settled in court. A Western Oregon University student in 2009 challenged his school’s gun ban after he was suspended for possessing a weapon on campus despite having a permit to carry a concealed weapon. “A three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals said that an Oregon University System ban on guns exceeds its authority and is invalid,” the Oregonian reported.
But here’s where it gets tricky: the state Board of Higher Education adopted a policy after the 2011 court case that was specifically designed to get around the court ruling. The Oregonian reported at the time that the new board policy prohibited students or anyone else doing business with the university or attending school events to bring guns into “classrooms, buildings, dormitories and sporting and entertainment events.”
The Oregonian explained the board’s legal defense for the new policy this way:
The Oregonian, March 2, 2012: The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in September that the board did not have authority to regulate guns through the use of an administrative rule. But the court also said the board has broad control over its property. So the board turned to the policy to keep guns off its campuses.
George P. Pernsteiner, who was chancellor of the university system and author of the weapons policy, told us in an email how the policy works.
“Basically, by registering to be a student, by being an employee, or by using a ticket to an event, the person had to agree not to bring a weapon — even if they had a concealed weapons permit,” Pernsteiner wrote. “Buildings were posted as not permitting weapons as a condition of entry into the building. But, as you note, a person with no relationship to the university but with a concealed weapons permit could have such a weapon while walking on and across campus grounds (university open spaces).”
However, Pernsteiner also told us that the board’s policy “applied to the seven universities that were within the university system and did not apply to any of Oregon’s 17 community colleges,” including Umpqua Community College.
So we asked UCC if it had adopted a policy similar to the one at the universities that are part of the Oregon University System. Understandably, school officials did not immediately respond to our questions. On Oct. 19, we received a response from Rebecca Redell, UCC’s vice president and chief financial officer, who said the school’s weapon policies do not apply to those who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Redell, Oct. 19: The student misconduct policy regarding firearms does not apply to students with a valid concealed weapons permit. There is a general prohibition against the possession of weapons on campus that would apply to College patrons, but this, similarly would not apply to those with valid concealed weapon permits pursuant to Oregon law (ORS 166.170).
So, Umpqua Community College isn’t exactly a “gun-free zone,” as described by some of the Republican presidential candidates.