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The start of the school year is right around the corner, but this year is going to look a lot different than in the past. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some public-school districts are offering in-person traditional instruction, however, virtual instruction and a hybrid that combines in-person instruction and virtual online instruction are the norm for most public schools. Parents may choose the best option for their student. Regardless of the method of instruction, it is important that all South Carolinians have a clear understanding of South Carolina’s gun laws in relation to school and school property.

What is the Law When it Comes to Guns on School Property in South Carolina?

South Carolina law prohibits the possession of a firearm on school property. S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-420 states, “it is unlawful for a person to possess a firearm of any kind on any premises or property owned, operated, or controlled by a private or public school, college, university, technical college, other post-secondary institution, or in any publicly owned building, without the express permission of the authorities in charge of the premises or property.” It is important to know that “premises or property” does not include roads, streets, or right of ways maintained by state or local government which are open full time to vehicular traffic. A violation of this section is punishable by imprisonment up to five years or a $5,000 fine, or both.

However, an individual with a CWP may possess a loaded firearm while on school property if the firearm is securely encased in their vehicle while the motor vehicle is attended or the firearm is locked inside and is secured inside a closed glove compartment, closed console, closed trunk, or in a closed container secured by an integral fastener and transported in the luggage compartment of the vehicle. If a person does not have a CWP, then they may not possess a firearm on school property at any time, even if the firearm is secured in a locked vehicle. S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-430(A).

The term “any time” found in the statute means that the carrying of firearms and any other weapons is banned even when school is not in session. Due to COVID-19, most schools starting class this fall will have some aspect of online learning. A student or teacher participating in an online class from their home does not cause their home to become “school property” for the purposes of the statute.

So, what are the implications for dual-purpose facilities such as daycares, churches, after-school programs, and other education centers? The South Carolina Attorney General opinion regarding a church that also serves as a daycare, preschool, or school stated, “that a court would conclude that where a person has the express permission of the appropriate official or governing body of a church which owns or has legal possession or control of the church’s property, and where that person is not otherwise prohibited from possessing a concealed handgun, that person may lawfully carry on the premises consistent with such permission even when the church operates a daycare or preschool on the same premises.” The question remains unanswered as it applies to a private daycare, school, or after-school program, however, the opinion seems to indicate that the private property rights would trump the prohibition.

What About Non-Lethal Weapons on School Property?

S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-430(C) makes it a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison or a $1,000 fine or both, for anyone to possess: a knife with a blade over 2 inches long; a blackjack; a metal pipe or pole; firearms, or any other type of weapon, device, or object which may be used to inflict bodily injury or death while on any elementary or secondary school property. Although not expressly stated, mace or pepper spray would be among the prohibited items. An Attorney General’s Opinion from 1995 clearly states that in the Attorney General’s view, pepper spray would be included in “any other” type of weapon, device or object which may be used to inflict bodily injury. Obviously, many items can be used to inflict bodily injury or even death including a pencil or a pen, these items could be considered weapons depending on how they were used. Note here that this statute is specific to elementary and high schools and does not include colleges.

As one can see, South Carolina law is tough on what you can carry on school property. The statute is written very broadly to include any weapon, device or object which can be used to inflict bodily injury or death. Even if an item does not appear to qualify under South Carolina’s broad language, it may still be prohibited by school policy.

If you have any questions about carrying a firearm or non-lethal weapon on school property, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to 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.