Fact Check

Umpqua Community College Is a Gun-Free Zone?

Rumor: Umpqua Community College was a gun-free zone when nine people were fatally shot there in October 2015.

Published Oct 5, 2015

Claim:   Umpqua Community College was a gun-free zone when nine people were fatally shot there in October 2015.


Example:   [Fox News, 4 October 2015]

Donald Trump called in to "Fox and Friends Weekend" today and weighed in on a variety of topics, including the tragic Oregon shooting.

Trump pointed out that Umpqua Community College was a gun-free zone, so the only person who had a gun was the bad guy.

"Everybody was sitting there and there was nothing they could do, not a thing they could do," Trump said. "The police did a fantastic job getting in that quickly, but there was nobody with any protection."

"Wouldn't they have been better off if somebody in the room, anybody, anybody, had a gun to at least help them out?" Trump said. "It was a terrible thing. And these gun-free zones are a disaster. Everybody's just a sitting duck."


Origins:   Mass shootings at schools are an all-too-frequent occurrence in the United States, and each instance of that form of tragedy prompts public renewed debate over whether tighter or looser restrictions on the ownership and carrying of firearms would reduce the chances of future massacres. Proponents of the latter often cite schools as institutions that are particularly vulnerable to gun violence because usually students are too young to carry firearms and/or older students and faculty are prohibited from carrying them, leaving everyone effectively defenseless against malevolent gunmen (who know schools present a large number of potential victims with little chance of resistance).

That issue arose once again after the 1 October 2015, mass shooting took place at Umpqua Community College (UCC) near Roseburg, Oregon, in which 26-year-old Christopher Harper-Mercer fatally shot nine people and injured nine others on the campus before killing himself after a gun battle with responding police officers. A number of politicians and other critics quickly proclaimed that Umpqua's status as a "gun-free zone" had exacerbated the tragedy: in addition to Republican presidential Donald Trump (whose comments are reproduced above), several other prominent figures leaped into the fray to condemn the supposed prohibition of guns on the Umpqua campus:

But is wasn't quite true that UCC was a "gun-free zone." As the New York Times reported, Oregon is one of several states where the law allows the carrying of concealed weapons on public college campuses:

Oregon is one of seven states with provisions, either from state legislation or court rulings, that allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The other states are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Utah and Wisconsin.

The Oregonian noted more specifically that although UCC did have a no-gun policy, they were required by law to allow anyone with a concealed firearms permit to bring guns on campus:

Umpqua Community College, site of a mass shooting, bans guns, knives longer than 4 inches and other weapons from campus.

But that policy has one big exemption that renders the pastoral 100-acre campus near Roseburg anything but a gun-free zone: Everyone with a concealed firearms license is allowed to bring guns on campus.

That is because a 1989 Oregon law forbids any public body except the Legislature from restricting the rights of concealed weapons permit-holders to bring guns where they wish.

Proponents of gun rights have seized on [the] tragic killing of eight Oregon college students and their writing instructor as evidence that so-called gun-free zones, or places where all guns are banned, are especially dangerous because a gunman plotting a mass killing will know there is no armed person there who can stop him. Proponents of gun restrictions have shot back with their own take on gun-free zones.

The college's no-guns policy seems to be obvious evidence that the Umpqua campus was such a place. But Oregon gun owners with concealed firearms licenses know those licenses entitle them to carry loaded guns in nearly all public places. Guns, including handguns and rifles, are allowed on campus for people who have passed all background checks and conditions to qualify for a concealed weapon permit.

Many Oregon college and university leaders dislike having armed people on campus, and public colleges have tried to make rules prohibiting the practice. But the courts have ruled those policies invalid when it comes to licensed permit-holders.

So, was UCC a "gun-free zone" or not? The school was essentially a hybrid of competing firearms regulations: their official policy prohibited the "possession, use, or threatened use of firearms on college property, except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations," but state law required they allow concealed firearm permit-holders to carry weapons on campus, while the Oregon State Board of Higher Education's policy nonetheless barred guns from "college buildings":

In 2011, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the Oregon University System's longstanding ban of firearms on college campuses, allowing those with concealed carry permits to bring weapons on university grounds.

The following year, the Oregon Senate considered a bill that would have again prohibited the carrying of guns onto school, college, or university grounds in the state. That legislation lost by a single vote.

The day after the vote, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education took up the issue, setting a policy that allows guns on campus, but bars them from college buildings and sporting venues. Umpqua Community College upholds this ban, making an allowance for those "expressly authorized by law or college regulations."

As The Oregonian reported, some UCC students present on campus during the mass shooting were carrying firearms with them (but did not intervene in the event):

John Parker, a 36-year-old Army veteran studying to become a drug and alcohol counselor, is among the UCC students who hold weapons permits and bring guns to campus. He had his gun and his license with him on campus when the shooting took place.

He was in the college's veterans center, just a few buildings away from Synder Hall, with some other students who were similarly permitted and armed.

A college employee talked them out of leaving to try to use their guns to save others. The active shooter could have taken them down first. Law enforcement officers already on the scene would not have known their guns would be used to defend students and instructors, not hurt them, he said.

"If we would have run across the field, we would have been targets," he said. "We made a good choice at the time."

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

Article Tags

Read More

a Member

Your membership is the foundation of our sustainability and resilience.


Ad-Free Browsing on Snopes.com
Members-Only Newsletter
Cancel Anytime