Armed to Learn: Aiming at California K-12 School Gun Policy

– Executive Summary –

Although the idea of a school shooting strikes fear in the hearts of school administrators, school employees, and parents, there is no agreement on whether arming employees is a sound strategy to counter this threat. There is a wide gap in viewpoints between gun control advocates who want tighter gun control and constitutionalists who believe as strongly in the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Since 2007, over 20 states have seen bills introduced into their legislature that propose the authorization or arming school employees.[1] School weapons policy is an issue involving nearly every law enforcement agency (at state and federal levels), the first responder community, the public, and school administrators. The protection of children from active shooter/armed intruder incidents while in school has homeland security implications that require objective decision making.

The outcome of this research did not result in advocating for a particular policy option but instead advocates for a policy process. One assumption of the research question is that there is no one correct nor universally applicable outcome; rather, there are possible options for every school district applicable to the unique environment, context, values, current capabilities and competencies (or those that could exist), and risk tolerance. The measure of effectiveness for each criterion considered is whether the risk associated with each criterion has been managed (or can be) in an acceptable manner. This research makes the assumption that given the current legal and social environment, there is no “one size fits all” answer; the same decision-making framework and process can be used regardless of whether the outcome supports MoreGuns (allow teachers to be armed), BanGuns (no one is armed), or SomeGuns (trained security or law enforcement can be armed but not teachers).

California was chosen for this research because unlike other states, it lacks a legislative framework outlining parameters for arming school employees. In addition, California is recognized as a state with more restrictive gun laws thereby making the policy decision more difficult to navigate. Although California is the intended audience, there are broad implications for school districts nationwide. A collateral and intended impact will be a contribution to the education of all stakeholders and those interested in the dynamics and implications of school gun policy.

The following policy options discussed in this research represent the various paradigms that exist or can exist to create policy. Acknowledging the assertion of Donella Meadows that no paradigm is “true,” none of these policy options is truer than the next, but instead all are true.[2] In addition, it is the mission of the superintendent in partnership with the applicable stakeholders to determine which option is most true for them.

  1. BanGuns

A BanGuns ideology primarily comes as a result of any of the following:

  • An unwillingness to incur any liability or any level of risk associated with firearms (risk avoidance).
  • A culture that fundamentally does not support the presence of firearms on campus (risk avoidance).
  • A determination that adequate insurance cannot be obtained or is cost prohibitive (the inability to transfer risk).
  • A lack of capacity/capability to administer a weapons policy (inability to mitigate risk).
  1. MoreGuns

A MoreGuns ideology results when culture and capacity support firearms on campus. To date, this ideology has been most prevalent in states with liberal gun laws, which does not include California. In these instances the following characteristics apply:

  • Parent and employee groups support guns on campus and no opposition is expressed toward arming staff or security personnel.
  • The use of a firearm is a desired part of the job to provide enhanced security on campus (acceptance of risk).
  • Attitudes are accepting of voluntary carry by personnel who have a license to carry a concealed weapon.
  • The district is willing to incur liability, has adequate insurance in place, and uses indemnification agreements where appropriate, thereby achieving adequate risk transfer.
  • Training for persons authorized to carry a firearm is robust and consistent with Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) or other as prescribed by policy or regulation (risk mitigation).
  1. SomeGuns

This ideology is a middle ground where neither gun advocates nor gun opponents achieve their fundamental goal. This approach is characterized primarily by the following:

  • The culture may be opposed to arming civilian employees but does not oppose armed security or law enforcement personnel.
  • A willingness to incur some liability but in a limited fashion (risk acceptance).
  • Adequate insurance is in place and contractual liability pertaining to the use of outside agencies or firms has been addressed (risk transfer).
  • Training for persons authorized to carry a firearm is robust and consistent with Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) or other as prescribed by policy or regulation (risk mitigation).

A successful policy approach considers the whole system of interconnected pieces and understands how one decision or action affects other parts. Using risk management principles as the backdrop and foundation for making policy provides the best opportunity for success moving forward by prompting policymakers to objectively assess culture, capability, and resources in creating sound policy.

[1] David B. Kopel, “Pretend Gun-Free School Zones: A Deadly Legal Fiction,” Connecticut Law Review 42, no. 2 (2009): 515.

[2] Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, ed. Diana Wright (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008).

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