Guns and School Zones: What You Need to Know | Virginia

The following is a video transcript.

With school back in session, we begin hearing questions about carrying into schools or into school zones. There are several important things you need to know about guns in school zones in Virginia.

CARRYING IN OR ON SCHOOL GROUNDS

Generally, it is illegal to carry a firearm into a public, private, or religious elementary, middle, or high school. There are some limited exceptions that allow an unloaded pistol in a closed container, including a trunk, on school property. There is also an exception that allows an unloaded rifle or shotgun secured in a firearms rack within a vehicle on school property.

Furthermore, an individual with a concealed handgun permit may also possess a loaded handgun in the parking lot of the school, or in other means of vehicular ingress or egress from the school. This exception allows you to have your concealed handgun on your person with a valid concealed handgun permit while dropping someone off at school.

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This exception does not mean you can get out and walk to the front office of the school with your concealed handgun on you. A further cautionary note here: people, rightfully so, are very nervous about seeing firearms in and around schools. Just because it may be legal to have unloaded rifles and shotguns visible in the firearms rack on the back window of your truck does not mean people will not call the police and have you investigated.

Finally, it is important to note the exceptions in the Virginia law mirror the similar exceptions in the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1996, that help keep you from inadvertently violating federal law.

schools in religious institutions

While most people are aware that carrying a firearm into a public school would be forbidden, they frequently get tripped up when asked about carrying into a church that may also host a private school; or they wonder about carrying into a church activity that may be held somewhere like the auditorium of a public school.

If the activity is a church activity held at a public school, I have bad news for you: unless you fall into an extremely limited category, such as an approved law enforcement officer, you cannot carry there, even though school is not in session while the church is.

If, however, you are attending a church that also happens to host a school, you need to answer a couple questions:

  1. What is the church’s position? If they have asked or told people not to carry firearms there, then you cannot carry your weapon.
  2. If the church has not restricted carrying weapons, ask yourself if the school that is held there is either an elementary, middle, or high school. If it is, you cannot carry your weapons there, unless you meet the extremely limited exceptions in the Virginia law.

If the church has not prevented you from carrying your weapons, and the school that is held there is simply a Sunday school or a daycare, then you may arguably be able to carry your weapon while in church.

CONCEALED WEAPONS IN CHURCH

Virginia allows the carry of concealed weapons into church with a concealed handgun permit and a “good and sufficient reason.” While I am unaware of specific cases that define what constitutes a “good and sufficient reason,” we have a 2011 opinion from the Virginia Attorney General that suggests self-defense constitutes a “good and sufficient reason.” It is also important for people to understand that carrying firearms during afterschool functions—even in places otherwise open to the public—are subject to the same restrictions. Generally speaking, that means one cannot carry a firearm at school-sponsored activities, such as at sports games, even when held on ground generally open to the public.

CARRYING ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES

Finally, we need to cover questions about carrying on college campuses. Here, the first question is also whether it is a public or private college. Like any private business, private colleges may prohibit the carry of firearms on their grounds or in their buildings. Even with public colleges or universities, there may be some restricted areas, such as school buildings. However, for members of the public, you will likely be able to carry in some places, such as the open grounds of the university. Unfortunately, even most public colleges and universities prohibit their own students and employees from carrying a weapon.

Because where you can and cannot carry is very specific and unique to each school, we recommend you check with any public college or university to learn their policies before carrying a firearm on their property.

For any further questions regarding carrying in a school zone, call U.S. LawShield and to ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.

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