The following is a video transcript.
Summer is over, school is back in session, and you’re getting ready to drop the kids off at their new classes for the year. But, do you know how school zones affect your gun rights? For example, can you carry through a school zone with a firearm? Can you carry on an elementary school campus? And what do you do if the school is located in a house of worship?
The school safety zone itself refers to any real property or building owned or leased by any public, private, or secondary school, including vocational or technical schools, as well as colleges and universities. The statute makes it a misdemeanor for a Georgia Weapons Carry License holder to possess or control any weapon within a school safety zone or at a school function. For a non-license holder, the crime is punished as a felony with a minimum term of imprisonment of 2 years, not more than 10, with a possible fine of up to $10,000. School functions are also protected by the law and include any school function outside the school safety zone.
LAWFUL CARRY ON SCHOOL PROPERTY
The statute goes further to allow a Weapons Carry License holder to possess a legal weapon if it is kept within a vehicle when parked or traveling through a school safety zone. This law would then allow a Weapons Carry License holder to keep a firearm in a locked compartment of the vehicle when the vehicle is on campus.
It is worth noting that the Georgia statute does not prohibit the following persons from carrying, possessing, or having under such person’s control a weapon within that zone:
- Someone who resides or works in a business or is in the ordinary course of transacting lawful business; or
- Any person who is a visitor of such resident located within that school safety zone.
GUN-FREE SCHOOL ZONES
Keep in mind the Federal Gun-Free School Zones law found at 18 U.S.C. § 922(q), that protects school zones in addition to Georgia laws on school carry. The law makes it a federal crime for any person to possess a firearm that has moved through interstate commerce (and that’s virtually any firearm), on the grounds of or within 1,000 feet of a public, parochial, or private school.
As surprising as it may seem, under the federal law, the mere possession of a firearm by an occupant of a motor vehicle while driving past a school or dropping off a child could be considered a federal crime. There are many exceptions, however, that fit most practical situations. For instance, carry of a firearm is allowed if the possession is on private property which is not part of the school grounds. This means a person living within 1,000 feet of the school can keep a firearm in his or her house, just as with the state law.
RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS AND SCHOOLS
Now, what if the school is located in a house of worship? Weapons Carry License holders may lawfully carry a firearm in a church, synagogue, temple, or other place of worship if given explicit permission to do so, but a school safety zone is any real property or building owned or leased to any public or private elementary school, and that would include a school at a church.
Furthermore, it is not a defense that the school was not in session at the time, such as a Sunday or a Saturday morning during services, or that the private property was being used for other purposes besides school purposes, like worship. This tells us that if a place of worship has a school in it, the property is treated as a school even if school is not in session. That means no carry in the building unless special statutory rules for possession a school zone are followed, either through an exception found in the law or with proper authorization from school authorities.
CARRYING ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES
It’s also important to note that with the addition of college campus carry to Georgia law, Weapons Carry License holders may carry a handgun, and a handgun only, on the campuses of public colleges and universities, so long as the firearm is concealed. However, carrying onto private colleges and campuses is still forbidden. There are many locations off-limits to carry on a public campus, including buildings or property used for athletic sporting events or student housing, any room or space where high school students are enrolled in classes through dual enrollment, or faculty, staff, or administrative offices.
I hope this clears the air about exactly what a lawful Weapons Carry License holder can do when it comes to school carry in a school zone. For any questions regarding carry in a school zone, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.