For about the past year, two San Joaquin valley school districts have allowed some parents and staff members to carry a concealed firearm on campus if they have a concealed carry weapons permit and seek the permission of the district superintendent.
However, under a new bill on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, that authority could soon be revoked.
The California Legislature has approved Assembly Bill 424, which would strip that authority from superintendents in all but a few narrow circumstances.
The bill’s author Kevin McCarty of Sacramento says it was never their intention to swing open the schoolhouse doors to more concealed weapons when they passed a bill amending the state’s Gun Free School Zone Act two years ago.
“Well, there was frankly, a bit of a loophole in the law,” McCarty says.
McCarty says that bill was intended to allow people who have been granted a restraining order against another person to carry a concealed weapon on campus with the permission of the superintendent. McCarty says the main goal was to protect victims of domestic violence.
However, both the Kern High School District and the Kingsburg Joint Union High School District read it to mean that all concealed carry permit holders could get the same privilege to carry their gun on school grounds. Kingsburg allowed both community members and employees to carry. Kern started with just the community while working on an employee policy.
McCarty co-authored AB 424 to scale back the authority previously granted to superintendents and their districts.
“School districts have been exploiting this policy and giving, frankly, concealed weapons to cafeteria aides, teachers, bus drivers, and yard duty aides. That really wasn’t the intent. But more importantly, we don’t think that makes schools safer to have school staff roaming around the campus with a gun attached to their hip,” McCarty says.
This has taken the two districts by surprise.
Phillip Peters is the vice president of the Kern High School District Board of Trustees.
He says allowing some community members carry concealed weapons is a reasonable step, to ensure the safety of students and faculty, especially if they have taken the time and expense to acquire a CCW.
That is why he is opposed to McCarty’s bill.
“This is not a very well thought out decision. And I think it adversely affects student safety. I think it adversely affects teacher safety. And I think it is some very bad legislation,” Peters says.
So far, Peters says just 13 parents have applied out of their student base of nearly 40,000 students.
Peters blames media coverage of their decision for driving the effort to take back the authority from the districts.
His opposition to the bill is shared by Kingsburg Police Chief Neil Dadian, who supported the school district’s decision to allow parents and faculty to carry weapons on campus with permission.
“I look at it like this. If there are people willing to take the extra step, make the extra effort, put themselves possibly at greater risk to protect themselves and the children in their charge, why wouldn’t I support that?” Dadian says.
Dadian says the bill is a knee-jerk reaction and the result of an anti-gun climate in Sacramento. He also rejects the argument put forward by some opponents that allowing parents and employees to carry weapons would make those people feel empowered to act as a pseudo-police force.
So far most of the students Valley Public Radio spoke to at Kingsburg High School, like 17-year old high school junior Courtlyn Reeve, don’t seem too bothered by the notion of having armed teachers and parents in their midst.
“I mean, if they have the paperwork to do so, I believe it is better. Because if there is a shooter on campus, how are we supposed to protect ourselves? We can’t just throw rulers at them or something,” Reeve says.
Reeve says that students like her grew up in the age of school shootings. The Columbine High School shooting happened in 1999 when Reeve was just a toddler. So school shootings have been a staple of her life since before she can remember.
“I mean it is scary how you see it on the news and stuff. And it happens. Sandy Hook or something like that. You think ‘oh, what if it happened to my school’ anybody here just could do it,” Reeve says.
But even some school leaders who approve of allowing parents to carry concealed weapons on campus say districts may have overreached.
Jeff Flores is a Kern High School District trustee who says moving so quickly to open that loophole drew Sacramento’s ire.
“By overreaching, now no one can carry. And I think we are regressive about it. I think we hit the sweet spot to allow private citizens to come and go. And now, no one gets to come on campus [with a gun],” Flores says.
The bill, which is on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, would not only prohibit future permissions for parents and faculty, it would also wipe away any allowances that superintendents have already granted.
There is one remaining exception, anyone with an active restraining order against another person can still seek permission to carry a weapon. The bill’s author says that was the original intent of the first bill two years ago.
Lastly, the bill was amended to allow school gun and rifle clubs to continue to operate.