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Guns and School Zones: What is the Law in Virginia?

Firearms are restricted in public, parochial, and private schools, according to federal and Virginia law. Virginia Code Section 18.2-308.1 prohibits anyone from knowingly possessing any firearm, while such person is upon any public, private, or religious elementary, middle, or high school, including buildings and grounds, that portion of any property open to the public, then exclusively used for school-sponsored functions, or extracurricular activities, while such functions or activities are taking place. Or, any school bus owned or operated by any such school.

A violation of this section is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine. This section does not apply to a person who has a valid concealed handgun permit, and possesses a concealed handgun while in a motor vehicle in a parking lot, traffic circle, or other means of vehicular egress or ingress to the school.

It does not apply to any law enforcement officer or an unloaded firearm that is in a closed container. It further does not apply to unloaded shotguns or rifles in or upon a motor vehicle in a firearm rack, or an armed security guard hired by a private or religious school for the protection of students and employees, as authorized by such school.

The federal law concerning guns in school zones is called the Gun-Free School Zone Act. This act prohibits any person from knowingly possessing a firearm that is moved in or otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce at a place the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe is a school zone.

The act also prohibits any person from knowingly or with reckless regard for the safety of another, discharging, or attempting to discharge a firearm that has moved in or otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce, at a place the person knows is a school zone. The act defines school zone as one, in or on the grounds of a public, parochial, or private school. Or two, within a distance of a 1,000 feet from the grounds of a public, parochial, or private school.

Exceptions to the possession prohibition include if the individual possesses the firearm as a Virginia-issued concealed handgun permit, or where the firearm is unloaded, and in a locked container, or locked firearms rack on a motor vehicle, or unloaded and possessed while traversing school premises for the purpose of gaining access to public or private lands open to hunting.

Exceptions to both the possession and discharge bans include possession of a firearm on private property, not part of the school grounds, where the firearm is possessed for use in a program approved by a school, held in the school zone, or in accordance with a contract entered into between a school, an individual, or an employer of the individual, or where the firearm is possessed or used by a law enforcement officer, acting in his or her official capacity.

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