BEHOLD THE FEDERAL LAW : A PRIMER ON GUNS AND “SCHOOL ZONES”

    I write this post as a result of reading a recent news story about a parent in New Hampshire carrying a concealed handgun while waiting near a school to pick up his child (story here).   From that story: “A federal law, Gun-Free Schools Zone Act, prohibits people from carrying a loaded gun, even if that person is properly licensed, within 1,000 feet of a public or parochial school.”  Nope, not the law.  

As more states and local governments allow school carry, the provisions of the GFSZA will once again become an issue. I was thus prompted to take a  “refresher” look at the law (often ignored because it was (in an earlier version) held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court).   Here’s the current GFSZA statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2):

(A) It shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm that has moved in or that otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.
(B) Subparagraph (A) does not apply to the possession of a firearm—
(i) on private property not part of school grounds;
(ii) if the individual possessing the firearm is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located or a political subdivision of the State, and the law of the State or political subdivision requires that, before an individual obtains such a license, the law enforcement authorities of the State or political subdivision verify that the individual is qualified under law to receive the license;
(iii) that is —
   (I) not loaded; and (II) in a locked container, or a locked firearms rack that is on a motor vehicle;
(iv) by an individual for use in a program approved by a school in the school zone;
(v) by an individual in accordance with a contract entered into between a school in the school zone and the individual or an employer of the individual;
(vi) by a law enforcement officer acting in his or her official capacity; or

(vii) that is unloaded and is possessed by an individual while traversing school premises for the purpose of gaining access to public or private lands open to hunting, if the entry on school premises is authorized by school authorities.

Federal law [18 U.S.C. § 921(a)] provides the following definitions:

(25) The term “school zone” means — (A) in, or on the grounds of, a public, parochial or private school; or (B) within a distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of a public, parochial or private school.

(26) The term “school” means a school which provides elementary or secondary education, as determined under State law.

The exceptions are rather straightforward, most notable is that a person with a firearm permit/license is not prohibited, if the law of the state or subdivision complies with the requirement of 18 U.S.C. §  922(q)(2)(B)(ii), above.  Most, but not all do. Of course, one must still look to state and/or local law for location permissions and restrictions. Compliance with the GFSZA or state/local law is not automatically lawful carry under the other.

My “drive-by” of various materials brought to mind some common questions I have discussed with sworn LEOs about school grounds carry.  Surprise:  Most are answered “NO,” with the caveat that applies to the non-sworn as well: Unload and lock it up or get a state or local permit/license.   [Here’s an idea.  Also check out Console Vault ™ (here)].
  • Can I carry while off-duty?  No
  • Carry under H.R. 218/LEOSA?  No, it does not override the GFSZA.
  • What about if I am on-duty not acting in my “official capacity,” for example, I am picking up my teacher spouse for lunch.  No.
  • I am going to a teacher/parent meeting during school hours or after hours.  I am “on-call” 24/7 and required to carry my duty weapon at all times when in public.  No.
  • I am properly state licensed and the state permits me to carry a firearm on school property as a licensed person.  Yes, you may carry in a GFSZ even though you are not then acting in your LE “official capacity.”
  • I am off-duty but responding to a law enforcement scenario at a school within the area of my sworn jurisdiction.  Yes, you may do so armed under the GFSZA.

In summary: First check the GFSZA.  If you get an exemption under it, check state and local law on rules for school carry.  Parents of current students and sworn LEOs may get a special exemption which can be folded into a Federal one.  If you are an active or retired LEO, get a state gun carry permit/license.  If you are out of the state where you have a license/permit, see 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2)(B)(ii), above.  (Get a nonresident permit/license; many who have opined on the point believe reciprocity is not expanded to the Federal GFSZA provision).

How about carry on a college or university?  See state law and the rules of the institution.

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About Steven Harris

Steve Harris is an experienced attorney (member of Florida Bar, 1979) who has represented federal agents and local LEOs in duty related matters. He has written and lectured about officer involved shootings, self-defense, and use of force law, including "Stand Your Ground." Steve has been a seasoned and active competitive handgun shooter for over 20 years.

21 thoughts on “BEHOLD THE FEDERAL LAW : A PRIMER ON GUNS AND “SCHOOL ZONES”

  1. Whom enforces this federal “unarmed victim zone” statute? Have any of the schoolhouse killers who survived been prosecuted for its violation?

    • Prosecutions are brought by U.S. Attorneys in the U.S. District Court. I believe the crime is within the investigative jurisdiction of the FBI and the ATF. I am not aware of any of the notorious school shooters being charged with the Federal offense, but there have been many prosecutions and convictions of others since the statute was originally declared unconstitutional. The convictions were almost always upheld on appeal. Remember that the “school zone” extends 1,000 feet. FYI, discharging a weapon in a “school zone” is a different offense. See 18 U.S.C. 922(q)(3). It is unlawful to do so except by an LEO in “official capacity” or by contracted security personnel.

      See here for BATFE ruling regarding discharge in lawful self-defense, another surprise for many:
      http://www.wisconsincarry.org/media/8377/atf07252013gfsza__2_.pdf

  2. Good stuff to know. I live in Virginia Beach, VA, and the law here for CCW is that you may be armed whilst picking up or dropping off your kid, but you may not exit your vehicle.

  3. I’ve got one of the console vaults for my truck. Well built. Nothing is theft proof, but it would take a long while to defeat, even if the vehicle was stolen. Also inconspicuous, most models are hidden by the vehicles features, it doesn’t scream ‘I have something valuable in here’

  4. Steve thanks for analyzing the incident nice to have someone clear-up the issue, who’s advice can be trusted.

  5. Great, informative post by Mr. Harris.

    As a retired LEO, and now a practicing attorney/CCW permit holder and carrier for the past 16 years, in a mostly anti-gun state, let me point out the obvious – all of this assumes that somehow or another you manage to flash your gun or otherwise come under enough contact that they actually find out you are carrying concealed. Unless you must go through a metal detector or get frisked, they should never know. And won’t know, unless you feel the need to brag or show off. Then you get what you deserve.
    Not suggesting or giving legal advice that anyone does not obey the applicable law; but in the end, big boy rules apply. The only time I do not carry is when I must go into a courthouse or other government building where there are metal detectors.
    YMMV.

    • Al thanks. The fellow in N.H. in the story was carrying “concealed.” Think about waiting outside a school and another parent who does not like you and knows you are armed. Also how about a traffic stop within 1,000 feet of a school zone, or a sobriety or other LE operation results in one being stopped and questioned. Or you discharge a weapon in lawful self-defense within 1,000 of a school and you are on public property. Oh no, 18 U.S.C. 922(q)(3)!

  6. According to AZ Revised Statutes, Title 13, Chapter 31, Section 2(http://azleg.gov/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/ars/13/03102.htm&Title=13&DocType=ARS):
    – (Subsection A) A person commits misconduct involving weapons by knowingly:
    – (Paragraph 12) Possessing a deadly weapon on school grounds;
    – (Subsection C) Subsection A, paragraphs 2, 3, 7, 10, 11, 12 and 13 of this section shall not apply to:
    1. A peace officer or any person summoned by any peace officer to assist and while actually assisting in the performance of official duties; or
    2. A member of the military forces of the United States or of any state of the United States in the performance of official duties; or
    3. A warden, deputy warden, community correctional officer, detention officer, special investigator or correctional officer of the state department of corrections or the department of juvenile corrections; or
    4. A person specifically licensed, authorized or permitted pursuant to a statute of this state or of the United States.
    – (Subsection H) Subsection A, paragraph 12 of this section shall not apply to the possession of a:
    1. Firearm that is not loaded and that is carried within a means of transportation under the control of an adult provided that if the adult leaves the means of transportation the firearm shall not be visible from the outside of the means of transportation and the means of transportation shall be locked.
    2. Firearm for use on the school grounds in a program approved by a school.
    3. Firearm by a person who possesses a certificate of firearms proficiency pursuant to section 13-3112, subsection T and who is authorized to carry a concealed firearm pursuant to the law enforcement officers safety act of 2004 (P.L. 108-277; 118 Stat. 865; 18 United States Code sections 926B and 926C).
    – (Subsection L)…Misconduct involving weapons under subsection A, paragraph 12 of this section is a class 1 misdemeanor unless the violation occurs in connection with conduct that violates section 13-2308, subsection A, paragraph 5[Participating in or assisting a criminal syndicate], section 13-2312, subsection C[Illegal control of an enterprise], section 13-3409[Involving or using minors in drug offenses] or section 13-3411[Possession, use, sale or transfer of marijuana, peyote, prescription drugs, dangerous drugs or narcotic drugs or manufacture of dangerous drugs in a drug free school zone], in which case the offense is a class 6 felony.
    – (Subsection M) For the purposes of this section:
    4. “School” means a public or nonpublic kindergarten program, common school or high school.
    5. “School grounds” means in, or on the grounds of, a school.
    So, when teaching the GFSZA and ARS 13-3102 to AZ CCW classes, I have to make the following points:
    1. No CCW permit = no school carry(especially in AZ which allows permit-less/”Constitutional” open-carry and concealed-carry);
    2. CCW permit allows carry in the “school zone,” NOT “school grounds” under ARS 13-3102;
    3. While ARS 13-3102 allows LEOSA carry on school grounds, GFSZA does not;
    4. While CCW permittees could conceivably drop off/pick up their children from school at curbside, if they are going to enter the parking lot and park their vehicle on school grounds(especially if they are entering a school building subsequently), they must unload their firearm(s) and conceal them from outside view, inside their locked vehicle. Off-duty/retired officers carrying under LEOSA do not appear to be subject to the unload/conceal requirement under state law, but as you stated, GFSZA does not allow school carry outside of official duties.

    • Phil, as I would expect of you, seems like you got it covered in 1-4 rules above, folding AZ law into GFSZA. Now, wouldn’t you like to have the time back that you spent figuring all that out? Maybe one of the GFSZA repeal movements will eventually succeed.

      • Yes, but then how would I justify my phoney-baloney job as a CCW instructor, bilking poor, honest gun owners out of hundreds of dollars through the nanny-state-government’s collusion/compulsion, for one of my classes? 😉

        (FYI, I’ve never charged, nor worked for a training organization that charged, more than $75 for a basic, 8-16 hour-long CCW class…)

  7. The end of that Oklahoma write-up is hilarious. “A conviction would mean you’re a prohibited possessor, but not necessarily for life – you could get a Presidential pardon and have your rights restored.”

    • Agreed. Presidential pardons are are, as far as I know, never given for firearm rights restoration.

  8. Gun Free Zone. That’s where the Shootings happen. Just so god dam stupid. If your a LEO you should be excempt.

  9. Great article. Very good information by you at the end. I don’t care if it’s concealed or not, one person with grudge can make a call and ruin your day.

  10. I didn’t see this pointed out in the article nor the comments. I believe an important part of the law was missed. The law states in 922(q)(2) “…is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located…”. I read this to saw this provision only applies to you in your home state. I live in OH; if I travel to KY and cross into a school zone, I am technically in violation of 922. Others have said that KY recognizes your license. Correct but KY did not issue my license. Be carefull.

    • You make an important point, and I agree with your “caution.” The issue was not missed in my post. See the second to last paragraph. No case that I have seen says otherwise. Reciprocity was barely on the horizon when the GFSZA was amended. The ATF legal opinion from 2002 on the issue is here:
      http://www.handgunlaw.us/documents/batf_school_zone.pdf

  11. Very Good Post, Thanks for taking the time to research and do this write up. Also it’s great that you recognize issues, in advance, that can jump up and bite us.
    George

  12. 1,000 ft? Am I missing something here? That means I can’t even drive by schools while carrying.

  13. You may not be on public property, including while driving, within 1,000 feet of school grounds (“school zone”) with a firearm unless you have a permit for that state or locale, and the law governing that permit requires a law enforcement background check for issuance. If you do not have such a permit, you need to unload the firearm and lock it up. From the article, see 18 USC 922(q)(2)(B)(ii) and (iii), and 18 USC 921(a)(25). HR 218/LEOSA carry or an out of state permit recognized through reciprocity do not comply with the requirements.

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