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Making the Gun Free School Zone Act better

Making the Gun Free School Zone Act better
Expanded Transitional Kindergarten (ETK) pre-kindergarten students Jakobe Mara, right, chases Tyler Rahman as they play a duck-duck-goose game during their first day of school at 186th Street Elementary in Gardena, on Aug. 18. (Los Angeles Times)

For the last 20 years it has been illegal in California to carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of an elementary or secondary school or on the grounds of a college, trade school or university, whether public or private. The Gun Free School Zone Act, which paralleled a similarly named federal measure, is both an important law and a reasonable one, except for one element: It includes an exemption for people who have been issued permits to carry concealed weapons. In this era of school shootings and other mass attacks with firearms, that loophole needs to be closed, and though state Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) has introduced a common-sense measure to do that, her bill doesn't go quite far enough.

The Senate has already passed SB 707, and the Assembly will take it up soon. Wolk's bill would end the campus exemption for all people holding concealed-carry permits, while granting the top school administrator the power to make case-by-case exceptions. It would end the exemption on school grounds only; people with a concealed-carry permit would still be allowed to bring their weapons within that 1,000-foot zone around elementary or high schools. Current exemptions would continue for police, security guards and others armed as part of their work, as well as for existing shooting ranges on campuses and for theatrical productions.

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But faced with opposition by police organizations, Wolk amended her bill to exempt retired law enforcement officers from the new ban. The reason for the concession is partly political: Wolk wanted to win police lobby support to help push the bill through the Senate. Yet Wolk also said she bought into the argument that retired officers "have the professional training required to use a firearm properly in a law enforcement situation."

But that presumes that officers maintain their training and their skills well into their retirement, which is not necessarily the case. Having a secretly armed, non-uniformed person adding another weapon to a violent encounter seems just as likely to exacerbate a problem as resolve it. The public interest here lies in ensuring that civilians, regardless of their training, aren't walking around elementary, secondary or college campuses with concealed weapons.

As troubling as the retired police exemption is, it isn't a fatal flaw. The Assembly should pass the bill, but both houses should revisit the logic of allowing retired police to carry concealed guns in schools, and should remove the exemption in follow-up legislation next year.

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