The gun-free school zone concept can be a confusing concept because in Georgia, there’s really no such thing as a gun-free zone. There are, however, school safety zones, and possession of a firearm in school safety zones is strictly monitored and in some instances prohibited.
Official Code of Georgia 16-11-127.1 codifies carrying weapons within a school zone, and that includes school functions. School functions are protected by the law and encompass any school function or activity outside the school safety zone if it’s sponsored by the school. This would also include transportation provided by the school, such as a bus to a sporting event. The school safety zone itself refers to any property owned or leased by any public or private elementary or secondary school.
The statute makes it a misdemeanor for a weapons carry license holder to possess or control any weapons or explosives other than fireworks within the school safety zone or at a school function. For a non-license holder, it’s considered a felony. For misdemeanors with weapons carry license holders, you may face up to 12 months in custody and $1,000 fine. For felonies for non-license holders, it’s anywhere from two to 10 years (two years being the minimum on a sentence), and up to a $10,000 fine.
There are exceptions to lawful carry on school grounds if you are a weapons carry license holder, and these exceptions exist in Georgia law. The statute allows for entry onto school property by a license holder when in possession of a firearm. Among other exceptions, it allows weapons carry license holders who carry or pick up a student within a school safety zone, at a school function, or on a bus or other transportation furnished by the school to possess a firearm when doing so, and to keep a legally possessed weapon within a vehicle when the vehicle is parked within the school safety zone or traveling through it. The law also allows a weapons carry license holder to keep a firearm in a locked compartment of the vehicle when the vehicle is on campus.
Now, you must have your weapons carry license with you, and this means that for a weapons carry license holder, when you are picking up or dropping off students, you can have a firearm in the car. If you leave the car, you can leave the firearm in the vehicle so long as it is in a locked compartment. So, you’re protected by the law if you have your weapons carry license and you’re in the car with a firearm when picking up or dropping off, or you leave the firearm in your vehicle.
These protections do not extend to any student, so even if you have a student who is of legal age to possess that firearm, they still can’t have it on school grounds.
The law states that it is a Federal crime for a person to possess a firearm that is moved through interstate commerce, meaning if you have a firearm that somehow has moved between states in commerce and that’s virtually every firearm or some portion of the firearm, like a part, it is a crime to possess that firearm on the grounds of a school or within 1,000 feet of a public, parochial, or private school. As surprising as it may seem, under this Federal law, mere possession of the firearm by the occupant of a motor vehicle while driving past a school or dropping off a child is a Federal crime.
Exceptions to the Law
- If the possession is on private property which is not part of the school grounds.
- 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 that state, then you’re allowed to possess the firearm when traveling through that school zone. In other words, in Georgia, if you have a weapons carry license, you can pass through any school zone with that weapon.
- If the firearm is not loaded and is in a locked container or a locked firearms rack that’s on the motor vehicle.
- If it’s carried by an individual for use in a program approved by the school.
- If it’s carried by an individual in accordance with a contract entered into between the school and the individual, such as a security guard.
- If the firearm is carried by a law enforcement officer acting in his or her official capacity.
- If the firearm is unloaded and is in the possession of an individual while traversing school property for the purpose of gaining access to public or private lands open to hunting.
So, there are the federal and state rules concerning possession of a firearm within a school zone (or as Georgia says, a school safety zone). Remember, you can do it, but you must have your weapons carry license to do so. If you’re traveling through a gun safety zone, make sure you’re safe and on the right side of the law.