For years, Folsom and Rancho Cordova schools have allowed some employees to carry guns on campus because district leaders believed their students were safer that way.
Come Jan. 1, those guns have to stay elsewhere.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed legislation preventing school districts from allowing non-security employees to carry guns on campus. Folsom Cordova Unified is the only large district in the Sacramento region that has allowed people with concealed weapons permits to be armed, along with a handful of districts around California that include Kingsburg Joint Union High School District in Fresno County.
Folsom Cordova, which has 20,000 students, has allowed firearms on campus since 2010 with special permission from the superintendent. Teachers and bus drivers have not been allowed to have guns.
“This legislation ends our years-long practice of allowing trained, select employees with valid concealed weapons permits to safely store and, if necessary, access a firearm on school grounds,” Superintendent Sarah Koligan said in a prepared statement. Koligan became superintendent at the beginning of the school year.
The district would not reveal how many firearms are currently on campus at the advice of law enforcement. Not every school has an armed employee on campus, said district spokesman Daniel Thigpen.
Kingsburg Joint Union High School voted to allow teachers to carry guns on campus last year. They are allowed to carry a concealed firearm in a holster worn inside the pants, around the chest, on the front hip, at the ankle or behind the back.
Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, has argued that schools would be safer without concealed weapons on campus. He was a co-author of Assembly Bill 424.
“A safe learning environment is essential for our children to be successful in the classroom,” McCarty said in a statement after the Assembly passed the bill in May. “That’s not possible if a school district allows armed civilians to roam California school campuses.”
The bill was backed by the state’s two major teachers unions, the California State PTA and gun control advocates. Opponents included the National Rifle Association and other gun rights organizations.
The new law revises the state’s Gun Free School Zones Act that was originally passed in 1995. The act made it a crime for a firearm to be brought within 1,000 feet of a public or private K-12 campus. The law also prohibits loaded firearms on university grounds without the permission of the administration.
The original act failed to address concealed weapon permits, which were not that common at the time, according to McCarty. It was revised in 2015 with an exemption for employees to carry a concealed firearm if they had a permit and written permission from a superintendent.
The new law only provides exemptions for shooting sports, certified hunter education or other activities sanctioned by a school district or university.
Law enforcement, security guards, military personnel and armored vehicle guards remain exempt from the ban on guns.
Despite allowing guns on campus for several years, Folsom Cordova didn’t publicly announce it until last year because of security protocols, according to district officials. The announcement was met by mostly positive responses from the community and staff, Thigpen said.
Under the district’s policy, holders of concealed weapons permits can ask for approval to leave a gun on campus in single-weapon vaults that require a key and digital combination to open. The gun owner is required to work with an approved trainer and carry their own personal liability insurance.
In an interview with The Sacramento Bee last year, then-superintendent Deborah Bettencourt said firearms would be used in the case of a shooter on campus or some other immediate danger. She said police officers need two to three minutes to respond to a school, and allowing qualified gun owners to keep weapons on campus makes help readily available.
Koligan was not available for an interview Monday. She intends to continue to implement the district’s firearm policy until Jan. 1, when the new law kicks in, Thigpen said.
“Between now and Jan. 1, 2018, when the law takes effect, we will work collaboratively with law enforcement, school staff, and families to ensure we are doing everything possible to protect the safety of our students,” Koligan wrote. “That will include reviewing our active shooter and emergency planning, and maintaining communication to families and community members about our district emergency procedures.”
Koligan also plans to create a new safety committee of employees, parents and stakeholder groups, Thigpen said.
The district currently has contracts with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and the Folsom Police Department, which each provide two officers to the district for security.
Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition, a gun rights group, doesn’t think the changes will make schools any safer.
“There are many studies that do suggest that having law-abiding gun owners on school grounds at least do nothing to hurt public safety,” he said. “I don’t think this kind of a ban does anything positive.”