Salem-Keizer board discusses banning concealed weapons on school grounds

The Salem Keizer School Board is considering prohibiting concealed weapons on school grounds after a recent change in state law, with an initial discussion showing a political divide on the topic.

During a work session Tuesday evening, Board Chair Osvaldo Avila cited Oregon Senate Bill 554 which passed in 2021 and expanded the list of locations where concealed handguns are prohibited. The legislation allows school districts to set their own policies around banning guns. 

Currently, state law prohibits open carry of guns in public buildings, which includes schools, with exceptions for law enforcement officers. That law does not apply to those with concealed carry licenses who have concealed weapons. 

The discussion Tuesday centered around whether the board would take advantage of the new law and prohibit concealed weapons on school district property. That move would require the district to display signage on school buildings. 

Director Marty Heyen read a prepared speech noting that those with concealed weapons licenses must be 21 years of age and pass a background check. 

“When mom picks up a kid from school or in the parking lot after a football game, who protects her from antifa? No one. But she can choose to get a (concealed weapons license) and protect herself,” Heyen said.

Heyen also said that if concealed weapons were permitted in Uvalde, Texas the May 24 massacre where a gunman killed 19 students and teachers at Robb Elementary School may not have happened. 

Second Vice Chair Maria Hinojos Pressey said she is a gun owner herself but was uncomfortable with the representation that the process to obtain a concealed carry permit was rigorous. 

Citing the Marion County Sheriff’s online application and required firearms safety course, Hinojos Pressey said it cost about $170 for a concealed weapons license and, as someone familiar with guns, it took her eight minutes to finish the required safety course. 

“So for $170 and eight minutes I can get a concealed carry license,” Hinojos Pressey said. “I don’t feel comfortable trusting someone who didn’t have to have any firearms training on a course.”

Director Karina Guzmán Ortiz said the board had a responsibility to mitigate any harm. 

“I think it’s obvious to us that we are living in perpetual fear,” she said, citing a recent incident in New York during a Pride parade that saw participants scrambling at the sound of fireworks mistaken for gunfire. “What I see, and what comes to mind is that we have a responsibility.”

Guzmán Ortiz spoke to arguments made by Director Satya Chandragiri that the school’s relationship with school resource officers was “severed” and would impact response time by local police. She referenced a May 27 lockdown of North Salem High School triggered after multiple witnesses reported seeing a man outside the school with a gun. Salem police officers arrived within 40 seconds.  

Directors Danielle Bethell and Chandragiri cited a lack of data to warrant the change in policy. 

“What I feel is the majority of you want to move forward and say concealed handgun owners who come to school district functions provide a threat because for some reason you think that gun is going to become available to someone other than the handler and I find this to be an unfortunate discussion because there’s no data of that in this district,” Bethell said. “This policy is going to do nothing.”

The agenda item was not an action item and required only discussion from the school board. No policy action was taken. 

Contact reporter Caitlyn May at [email protected].

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