While Democratic lawmakers have opened this session with a flood of bills aimed at restricting gun and ammunition sales, a Republican assemblyman is taking a different approach: Arm the teachers.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, introduced a bill on Wednesday morning that would let schools guard against shootings by equipping staff with firearms. Assembly Bill 202 would allow schools to spend money on "school marshals" who would be trained and permitted to carry concealed weapons at all times.
The bill would exempt marshals from a provision in the California Public Records Act requiring disclosure of holders of concealed weapons permits, allowing schools to keep secret which staff members are armed.
Donnelly said concealing identities is a key component of the bill, a measure that would keep would-be assailants in the dark while drawing "an invisible line of defense" around children. "We have a moral obligation that the next Vicki Soto, who is faced with inexplicable evil, that she not be left defenseless," Donnelly said, alluding to a teacher at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School who shielded her students with her body during the December massacre.
School marshals would need to undergo the necessary background checks to obtain a concealed carry permit. It would be up to individual schools and districts to craft additional training and screening programs.
Donnelly's bill underscores the divisions in the post-Sandy Hook gun control debate, which has pitted proponents of tighter regulations against gun advocates who have pushed for protecting children with more guns. AB 202 echoes a controversial proposal by the National Rifle Association to create a national "School Shield" program that would post armed guards outside schools.
"I think success would be when we can take down that sign that says our schools are a gun-free zone, or maybe change the sign cross off gun-free and put victim-free," Donnelly said.
Educators may beg to differ. California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel called Donnelly's bill "exactly the wrong thing," saying it would be more productive to restore funding for school counseling staff.
"When you think about what we're really dealing with, which is the safety of kids at school, putting guns on campus just seems so counterproductive when what we really need is a focus on the mental health needs of kids," Vogel said.
In a news conference introducing the bill, Donnelly repeatedly compared the idea of school marshals to air marshals who are anonymously posted on airplanes. Donnelly has some experience with airport security he was detained at the Ontario Airport in 2012 for having a loaded gun in his carry-on luggage.
He said he had forgotten the gun was in his bag and later pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges. The incident prompted Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, to introduce a bill mandating a formal arrest for people carrying loaded firearms in airports. Assembly Bill 2182 died in committee.