The new school year will begin soon, but this year is unlike any that has come before. With the COVID-19 pandemic, schools around the state are rushing to create safe learning environments and alternative methods of educating students. Some schools will offer in-person education, others online learning, and some will use a hybrid mixture of the two with some in-person and some online instruction. Because of the new look of education, we are constantly being asked what effect the new methods of teaching have on gun owners and gun rights in New Jersey.
What the Law Says
It is important that everyone remember that unless you have the prior written authorization of the governing officer of the institution, possession of firearms (or weapons) on school grounds is illegal. You could be found guilty of the crime of unlawful possession, under N.J.S.A. § 2C:39-5e.
Under New Jersey law, you are in a school zone if you are in or upon any part of the buildings or grounds of any school, college, university, or other educational institution. All firearms, weapons, and imitation firearms are prohibited. It is important to remember that firearms in New Jersey include air guns, black powder arms, and even inoperable relics or antiquities not typically regulated as firearms outside of New Jersey or under federal law.
Are Traditional Homeschoolers Subject to a School Zone Gun Ban in Their Own Home?
The answer is no, because New Jersey defines school grounds as “…land, portions of land, structures, buildings, and vehicles, when used for the provision of academic or extracurricular programs sponsored by the school district or community provider. If the homeschooler is educated on their own property and the education is not “sponsored by the school district or community provider” it would be outside the definition of “school grounds”.
What About Students Participating in Online or Hybrid Education Due to the Pandemic, which is Sponsored by the School District?
There are currently no cases addressing whether a person’s home becomes “school grounds” if students receive education from the school district in their own homes through some form of remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, technically, a person’s home would fall under the definition of “school grounds” discussed above, under New Jersey law.
Consequently, this seemingly makes it illegal to possess a firearm in your own home if your child is being educated remotely by the school district or community provider. Thankfully, the United States Supreme Court in the Heller decision has already stated that the Second Amendment provides a right to possess a firearm in your home. See, D.C. v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008). There can be no guarantee that an anti-gun politician or prosecutor will not try to use the new model of education, forced on us by this pandemic, as a method to get guns out of homes in New Jersey, but there is established Supreme Court precedent that indicates we have a right to keep those guns in our homes.
What If I Have a Permit?
Under New Jersey law, if you carry a firearm onto school property, you are still guilty, “irrespective of whether you possess a valid permit to carry the firearm or a valid firearms purchaser identification card.” Note too, that intentional criminality is unnecessary to be guilty of this offense; meaning you don’t have to know you were committing a crime or want to commit a crime to be convicted. Nor do you have to know you are in a school zone. The law only requires that you knowingly possess the gun or weapon; meaning you knew that you had the gun or weapon on you.
If you have any more questions about carrying a weapon on school grounds, give U.S. LawShield a call and ask to speak with your Independent Program Attorney.
The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.