A row of school lockers
(Via Pixabay)
K-12 Education

California school officials could mandate searches of backpacks, lockers under shooting threat

State Sen. Anthony Portantino decided to introduce another gun safety bill this year in response to the Nov. 30 school shooting that left four dead and seven injured in Oxford, Michigan.

Two months after four people were killed and seven injured during a Michigan high school shooting, a California lawmaker said he will introduce a bill that would require school administrators to collect information from parents about guns stored at home and would mandate backpack, locker and car searches if there is a credible threat or danger of mass casualty.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), author of several California gun safety laws, said he decided to introduce the legislation after the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School reignited a national conversation over how to prevent such incidents.

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That shooting occurred despite teachers reporting concerning behavior by the 15-year-old suspect, Ethan Crumbley, the day before and morning of the shooting, including searching for ammunition on his cellphone during class. He also had a graphic drawing that depicted a gun.

School officials called a meeting with the boy’s parents Nov. 30, but he was allowed to return to class, and his backpack wasn’t searched. Hours later, he allegedly used a gun that his parents bought him as a Christmas present to open fire at the school.

“We saw what inaction does in Michigan,” Portantino said. “Inaction leads to a tragedy. By empowering school districts with information and the mandate to investigate, we’re taking that inaction off the table.”

The legislation, which Portantino said he plans to formally introduce Wednesday, contains three provisions that he believes could help prevent school shootings.

Starting in 2023, public and charter schools would have to annually provide educational material on safe firearm storage to parents or guardians of students. Families would be required to notify the school during student registration of any guns in the home “and to answer questions about the ownership, storage, and accessibility by the pupil of the firearms,” the draft bill states.

If there is a threat or perceived threat of a shooting by a student at school, officials would have to notify local law enforcement and the Department of Justice and must launch an investigation and threat assessment, which includes checking the family’s firearm disclosure form. The student and his or her property — including car, locker and backpack — would be searched if there is reason to believe the student is in possession of a firearm or otherwise violating the law and school safety policies.

The state Department of Education and state Department of Justice would have to develop “model content” for schools to use when dealing with the threat or perceived threat of a deadly incident, according to a bill fact sheet.

“Go find those weapons before they get used to kill a kid,” Portantino said.

Kayden Christiansen returns from school at his home in Simi Valley.
(Shae Hammond for CalMatters)

There were 34 school shootings in 2021, according to data from Education Week, and the Michigan shooting was the deadliest since May 2018.

On Tuesday, UCLA moved classes online after a former lecturer sent threatening messages to people on campus that included a video referencing a mass shooting and an 800-page manifesto. The suspect was later taken into custody by police in Boulder, Colorado.

Portantino said his bill could stir opposition from both left-leaning and conservative groups, given its privacy implications. But the Legislature, Portantino argued, must act to prevent another tragedy.

“One more shooting is one more too many. One more dead student is one more too many. One more tragedy is one more we don’t want,” he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.