BELMONT, CALIF., OCT. 22 -- President Clinton today authorized the Education Department to cut off federal funds to states that do not adopt a near-blanket policy of expelling for one year students who bring guns to school.
Clinton came to a suburban high school near San Francisco to sign an executive order that toughens an anti-gun provision of the $13 billion education bill that Clinton signed this week. The federal threat gives the directive broad reach even though the government provides less than 10 percent of the funding for the nation's public schools.
Borrowing a phrase that President Ronald Reagan used in his war on drugs, Clinton said that the "zero tolerance" policy on guns would help create safe learning environments in schools.
"Zero tolerance is a common-sense policy. Why does anybody need to have a gun in school?" Clinton said in Carlmont High School's gymnasium, which was packed with more adults than students on a Saturday afternoon.
Besides his official purpose of signing the order, Clinton managed at the same time to serve political purposes of his own and several Democratic candidates. Although shunned by congressional Democrats elsewhere, Clinton was joined on stage by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, Rep. Tom Lantos and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who cosponsored the anti-gun provision. State Treasurer Kathleen Brown, the Democratic gubernatorial challenger, sat in the audience.
"We welcome you with open arms," Eshoo, a freshman who represents the area, told Clinton.
The unpopular president attempted to bolster his own political credentials on education, crime and the California economy, reciting a list of legislation approved and economic aid provided to the state in the past two years. He named six modest education bills passed, including his national service program, an apprenticeship program and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act renewal that contains the anti-gun provision.
Clinton called the 103rd Congress "the best session for education in at least three decades."
Feinstein and Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) proposed the Gun-Free Schools Act based on a California law adopted two years ago. Top school officials can approve exceptions to the mandatory expulsions.
Both House and Senate versions required schools to expel gun-toting students for a year, but the executive order was needed because language barring federal education funds was dropped in a conference on the elementary-secondary bill, according to Bruce Reed, a White House domestic policy adviser. States have a year to comply with the law.
The National School Safety Center, Feinstein said, has estimated that students each day carry 135,000 guns into the nation's schools, which reported 35 deaths and 92 injuries from guns last year.
"And it's not just an urban school problem," she said, noting that a Carlmont High student was shot to death off campus this year after being threatened with a gun at school.
Feinstein, who is trying to fend off a heavily financed challenger in Rep. Michael Huffington (R-Calif.), credited California's policy with reducing weapons-possession in Los Angeles schools about 30 percent.
Clinton attended a San Francisco fund-raiser for Brown tonight, who trails Gov. Pete Wilson (R) in the polls. He was then to fly to Seattle for another fund-raiser Sunday for Ron Sims, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.).