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2013 review: Gun debate takes hold in Columbia County

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Portland consultant and St. Helens High School alumnus Sam Chapman, center, sets up a press conference feet from the St. Helens High campus Nov. 4. It’s been an interesting year for those with strong opinions about gun rights in Columbia County. 

On March 20, the St. Helens School District Board passed a policy to forbid staff, teachers, district volunteers and contractors from carrying guns on district property or at district events (“Board bans guns on district property,” March 20). The policy even applied to those with concealed handgun licenses. The only board members to vote against that policy were Ray Biggs and Marshall Porter, who believed it restricted Second Amendment rights. 

That very week, the board of the St. Helens Girls Softball league raffled off an AR-15 assault-style rifle to raise money for the league (“Gun raffle rakes in money, divides community,” March 20). The raffle brought in $1,590 for the league, but fueled an ongoing debate within the community.  The raffle was held only three months after a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December of 2012, killing 20 students, an event that brought the AR-15 and other similar firearms to the center of a national debate over gun control. 

“There are definitely ways to raise money without raising such controversy,” said Betty Bundy, who had two daughters playing in the league and served as president of the association at the time.

While the debate continued, gun rights advocates within the district, citing the Second Amendment, managed to allow guns in the districts schools once again. 

After five months, the St. Helens School District Board voted Oct. 21 to lift the policy to ban guns on school property (“St. Helens School Board repeals policy prohibiting concealed weapons,” Oct. 25). With the policy removed, all teachers and staff are now allowed to carry concealed weapons within the district’s schools, as state and federal law prohibiting guns on school property does not apply to holders of concealed-carry permits. The motion to repeal the policy was brought forward by Biggs, who cited the Newtown tragedy as a reason to allow teachers and staff to carry weapons within the district. “Anybody who would potentially harm our kids wouldn’t know who has or doesn’t have a concealed carry,” Biggs said at the time. “That’s the beauty of it.”

The decision incited a rally of more than two dozen of the district’s teachers and parents on Nov. 4, who were in opposition of the board’s move (“Coalition forms to criticize school board vote,” Nov. 8). At the time, St. Helens High School science teacher John Prunty said he felt the board disregarded the feelings of teachers and community members to advance their “political agendas” instead of making “research-based” decisions in repealing the policy.