With the flick of a pen, Governor Jerry Brown undermined months of work Saturday that some California school districts — including Kern High School District — have undertaken to allow Concealed Carry Weapon permit holders to bring firearms onto campuses.
Brown signed AB 424 Saturday, which eliminates an exception to the Gun Free School Zone Act that allowed local superintendents to grant permission for CCW permit holders to carry guns at school.
At least five school districts used that exception to draft board policies allowing firearms on campus, including KHSD. District spokeswoman Lisa Krch said KHSD is evaluating AB 424’s passage.
Trustee Phillip Peters, who championed the policy, called the legislation, authored by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, “a big step backward for student safety.” As a result, he said, the legislature ought to bring more funding to schools to employ more officers to make up for the gap in safety.
McCarty, however, said that the legislation provides a safe learning environment that otherwise wouldn’t be possible with districts allowing armed civilians to roam campuses.
"The Legislature’s approval of AB 424 is a common-sense step, supported by campus police officers, to make sure schools are gun-free,” McCarty said in a statement.
Trustee Jeff Flores suspects it was his district’s decision to allow guns on campus that spurred the legislation.
“I think that we were one of the districts that really was one of the main impetus for the bill. I know there were some others, but they were rural. We were the biggest metropolitan district to do it. I think we caught the legislators’ attention," Flores said. "I think we did overreach as a district."
The decision heads off more than one year of debate and controversy as district leaders discussed whether to take advantage of the exemption.
Trustees spent months debating the issue during heated public meetings that at times turned raucous. Some opponents of the policy argued that with every gun allowed on campus, the risk of an incident increased. Krch said there’s been no incidents involving any of the authorized CCW permit holders in the 16 months since the policy was passed.
The district spent almost $1,600 sending an assistant superintendent to Texas to observe a firearms training camp for six days — which drew some ire from union representatives who questioned the use of district time and resources. They held study sessions after study session, calling on law enforcement for their opinions.
The result was two policies.
One allowed non-staff members to carry on campus. Twenty-three people applied and were authorized as of September. They include a stay-at-home mom, a dispatcher for the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, a doctor, an oil analyst, an insurance agent, and five churchgoers who attend weekend services at KHSD campuses.
The other policy, to allow teachers and other staff members to carry, was passed during a special session last November on a 3-2 vote. Regulations, however, were never finalized, and although several staff members showed an interest, none were granted permission to carry on campus.
Those regulations, however, were getting closer to reality, Peters said. Despite the pending legislation that seemed all but certain to pass from the day it was introduced, the district prepared draft regulations that included limits on caliber size and required 40 hours of tactical firearms training, Peters said.
“We were very close to being able to implement that and start interviewing staff, and putting them through that process if they chose to go that route,” Peters said.
It’s unclear whether the 23 CCW holders authorized to carry on campus would have those permissions immediately revoked, or whether they would be allowed to carry firearms onto campuses through the end of the year when the legislation goes into effect.