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Why the L.A. Community College District banned guns on campus

Personal Weapon ControlGun ControlPoliticsInterior PolicyColleges and UniversitiesNational Rifle Association of AmericaSafety of Citizens

Some months after the Sandy Hook murders, Scott J. Svonkin, elected in 2011 to the Los Angeles Community College board of trustees, heard that a couple of his own campuses were hosting gun safety classes.

They had to go, he decided. His colleagues unanimously agreed with him.

“When I found out about it,” he said, “I decided I wanted to ban guns on our campuses. I wasn’t aware of this noncredit gun class; I decided it’d be safer not to have guns on our campuses. I don’t oppose people’s right to own guns, but schools shouldn’t be places where guns are allowed in the hands of anyone but law enforcement.”

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His colleagues passed a resolution that, in the interest of a safe learning environment, banished the noncredit classes from all nine of the district’s campuses; “the presence of firearms,” it read in part, “even when nonoperational and in the instructional setting, lends itself to the potential for panic and fear.”

By doing so, the L.A. district bucked a trend.

In the months after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., at least a dozen and a half state legislatures tried to make it easier to carry concealed weapons on college campuses, in some cases for both faculty and students. Mississippi, two years before Sandy Hook, had allowed those who took a certified firearms safety course to carry concealed weapons on campuses.

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Against that, lawmakers in five states tried to ban concealed weapons on campuses; all of the measures failed.

The numbers reflect a chasm on the subject that opened even wider in 2007, after the Virginia Tech shootings: that armed students and teachers could have nipped it in the bud, versus the belief that safety is the job of school security and the more guns on campus, the more danger everyone is in.

The latter is Svonkin’s view, shaped in part by his work as a senior aide, a liaison, to L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, whose department patrols all nine community college campuses. “I’ve been through an FBI academy. I don’t have a beef with guns. I have a great deal of respect for both law enforcement and guns. I support the 2nd Amendment and believe gun control protects both law enforcement and the public.”

At the board’s hearing on the proposed ban, Svonkin said, several groups and individuals spoke up to support it; no one showed up to object.

The fact that the noncredit classes were teaching gun safety didn’t wash with Svonkin. The classes, he argued, taught people how to use a gun but were also “encouraging people to join the NRA. I don’t want people to go out and buy a gun because we’re teaching a class.”

Since the board vote in August, Svonkin has heard from gun rights supporters; a Virginia man who hosts an online radio show on an NRA site “called me out,” and his own Sheriff’s Department investigated one email that offered advice on how he could kill himself.

Last month, the district handed over documents about its vote, after a Long Beach law firm that has represented the NRA sent a public records request for them.

Unlike those dozen-plus states that worked after Sandy Hook to make it easier for people to own and carry guns, California has become more restrictive.

The Brady Campaign ranked the state as the nation’s toughest when it comes to guns. It was one of eight states to pass post-Sandy Hook reforms, in spite of the fact that gun rights supporters spent 12 times more money in state politics than their opponents did.

It’s an old script with a new set of players, and this one too, long after the passions of Sandy Hook or this ban are spent, will probably wind up on the same stage where the others were played out: the courts.


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Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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