As gun owners focused on self-defense whether at home or in the great outdoors, you’ve probably found that there are a lot of issues to consider. When you add kids and schools to that mix, the elements you need to factor in and the details you need to take seriously tend to expand exponentially.
We’re here to help you understand a few things about firearms and the back-to-school season. But before we get into it, remember: We’re not offering you legal advice. The following is meant only for informational purposes and what we’re mentioning here does not replace the advice of an attorney.
Here are some questions and our answers, then.
Q. Can you have your handgun in your vehicle during school pickup?
A. Here’s the thing about the various laws and regulations about firearms and school property: They vary by state. So, when we talk about some of these details, we’re speaking generally and it’s up to you to check the local laws where you live.
Generally speaking, the gun-free zone regulations also prohibit even having your loaded firearm in your vehicle when you’re on school grounds. Now, there are cases where it can be unloaded and securely locked up, but since you’re probably asking about your concealed carry handgun, that’s not much help.
In a legal sense, no, you’re not usually allowed to have your carry gun on you during student pickup. This does vary by state, but you need to be aware of this issue. If you are legally allowed to have your carry gun during pickup, remember that doesn’t mean that you can get out of the vehicle with it.
Q. Can you drive through a school zone with a firearm?
A. While this is something not many people realize, it’s typically illegal to go within a certain number of feet of school grounds with a loaded firearm. That means when you’re driving by the local elementary school with your carry gun, you might not be within the law. States sometimes vary on this issue, but the norm is usually a 1000-foot radius around a school where firearms are prohibited.
This raises all kinds of issues when it comes to going about your daily business. In some cases, it means you could end up with a lot more than a speeding ticket if a law enforcement officer pulls you over in a school zone and discovers you’re also carrying a firearm on your body. Are the odds in your favor that this will never be an issue? Probably, but this is something you need to be aware of as a law-abiding gun owner.
Q. Do some schools allow you to carry handguns?
A. Yes, there are schools that specifically allow the lawful carry of handguns. Some states write their own regulations regarding the carry of handguns on a school campus. Similarly, it’s possible for you to get written permission from the school for you to specifically carry a handgun on school grounds. In some states, like Texas, it’s not at all unheard of for qualified staff members to be carrying, and for that fact to be clearly posted outside school doors. (Although in other cases, that status is simply a surprise should a bad guy appear.)
Q. Can you open carry on school grounds?
A. Unless you’re a school resource officer or a law enforcement officer, you’re not going to get much love for open carrying. Aside from the fact that this is generally illegal, it’s just a bad idea from a tactical standpoint.
Remember, open carry puts a big “look at me” sign on you. And yes, it can also make you a target for criminals interested in either stealing your gun or taking out the most obvious resistance before carrying out their own plans. Sure, some rural schools don’t care, but it’s still your responsibility to carry your firearm according to the law and to also be smart about it.
Q. Does a carry permit affect whether you can carry in a school zone?
A. Yes, states such as Texas make it legally possible for you to go through a school zone with a firearm if you have your carry permit. It’s something to be aware of in permitless carry states such as Texas because it shows that there’s still a good reason to have your carry permit. You might not technically need it anymore for concealed carry but having the permit can grant you legal access to carry in locations where it’s otherwise prohibited.
Q. When did schools stop allowing firearms on school grounds?
A. The biggest shift, legally speaking, came in the 1990s. The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 made it “illegal for any individual to knowingly possess a firearm in a school zone.” This act applied to public, parochial, and private schools as well as the 1000-foot span surrounding them. Eventually, the original act was ruled unconstitutional and replaced by the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1995. By and large, the language of the original act remained the same, but new provisions added responsibility for prosecutors to prove the firearm in question affected interstate or foreign commerce.
Several attempts have been made by lawmakers to have this act repealed entirely, but thus far, those efforts have failed. Changes at the state level have certainly been made in some places, but the act is a federal law. This is a good example of why you need to be familiar with both state and federal laws. Also, be aware that just because a state tries to enact a Second Amendment Sanctuary doesn’t mean you cannot still get in trouble and be prosecuted on a federal level. The discussion of the legal legitimacy of sanctuaries is for another day, though.
Q. Did the gun tragedy at Columbine cause gun-free zones to become a thing?
A. Actually, the murders of students that took place at Columbine school in Colorado happened in 1999, well after the first Gun-Free School Zones Act went into effect. Somehow those murders are often associated with why schools became gun-free zones, but Columbine really had nothing to do with it.
Further, mass killings at schools that have been carried out by armed people aren’t new. The first one on record took place on July 26, 1764. That’s right, these incidents have been going on for centuries. In fact, Columbine and other events prove that criminals behave criminally, meaning no number of gun-free zone signs are going to stop them from carrying out evil acts. We’ve observed that it is the good guys who follow the laws, sometimes to their ultimate downfall.
Q. How do you keep your kids safe in school?
A. You should have age-appropriate talks with your kids about safety. All kids have different levels of understanding and maturity, so take it on a kid-by-kid basis when it comes to how much you tell them and when.
Kids need to know where the building exits are—and how to get to them—and they should understand when to run and when to fight. It’s a good idea to have a plan in place that changes as your kids get older. This plan should include not only what to do in case something happens but where they can and should plan to meet you if they flee the school grounds.
Statistically, our kids are a lot safer at school than it sometimes appears. This is one of the issues that has always influenced my choice of where my kids go to school. My questions include: Do they allow guns on campus? Do staff members carry? Those might not be questions you originally intended to ask and determine, but they should definitely be on your radar.
Ultimately, make sure you know and follow the state and federal laws regarding school zones, school grounds and firearms. Claiming ignorance of the law is never a valid legal defense.