Back to School: Firearms Laws You Need to Know in Pennsylvania

As back to school time approaches, our Independent Program Attorney Justin McShane explains the laws in Pennsylvania regarding guns and schools.

Back to school

Independent Program Attorney Justin McShane:

Guns in school in Pennsylvania is a hot-ticket item. I mean everyone has their opinion about it.

I’m here to tell you what the law is.

So what we have to do when we talk about guns in schools, is we have to differentiate between two different types of schools. That’s K through 12, both private, parochial, and also public schools. That’s one group, and then there’s college, or post-secondary schools.

When it comes to college and post-secondary schools, they can make up their own policies when it comes to whether or not they want to have handguns or rifles or anything on campus. That is just that. It’s just a policy. It isn’t the law. The most that they can do is ask you to leave, and if you stay, then you can be hit with defiant trespass and it becomes a criminal case, but it is not per se against the law when it comes to campus carry.

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Meaning, of course, post-secondary education. Now when it comes to K through 12, this is where it gets a little bit dicey, and again I’m here to tell you what the law is, not what we want it to be.

There is a debate, and it is ongoing in Pennsylvania, about the ramifications of this case called Goslin. G-O-S-L-I-N if you want to Google it. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Goslin had to deal with a guy who brought a knife, a pocketknife, into school when he was talking about his kid being expelled for bringing a similar type pocketknife into school.

And the argument that was made unsuccessfully at first was that was not against the law, and then ultimately in what we call a en banc or more judges decision, that it was found to be lawful under those particular circumstances. Some lawyers and some district attorneys read that very broadly, and what that means is that it is okay if you have a license to carry a firearm, if you carry a lawful weapon when you’re dropping your kid off at school, or at a school-related activity, or even potentially at school with with a firearm.

I highly, highly, highly recommend against it, for two basic reasons. Number one, I think that’s a really, really broad reading of that case, and as such, it is extremely dangerous because that original case had to do with the little pocketknife. We’re talking about a handgun, or a rifle, or shotgun, that’s going to be a different ball of wax.

Number two is no one wants to be that test case, because your name gets dragged through the mud and you take a lot of risk. So we recommend AGAINST bringing any sort of firearm to school, on school property, or school-related activities that are held on school property.

So those are the things that we have to be very careful and very aware of when it comes to guns and back to school time in K through 12. We recommend against it.

In fact, what I do when I drop off my daughter is I park my car across the street, and I walk her over to school, because I have guns in my truck, and on my person I leave the gun behind in the truck, and walk her across. That’s the law in Pennsylvania, like it or not.

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Comment section

8 comments on “Back to School: Firearms Laws You Need to Know in Pennsylvania

  1. Thanks for your clarification. I occasionally will get a call while I am out and about to go by my grandson’s school to pick him up. Though I don’t get out of my truck, I have been parked in the school driveway. No longer will I do that.

  2. Thank you for this helpful information. In the video the wording relating to the law and K-12 school, was used school related activities. I was wondering if some clarification could be given as it relates to having a firearm on school property during non-school related activities? In other words, does the law preventing firearms on school property apply during non-school related activities. For example, a church holding services in a school on Sundays. The school has no activities during this time, so I was curious if having a firearm in the vehicle parked on school property is a violation of law, etc.

    If the law allowed for me to have it in my vehicle during these non-school activity hours, then would it allow firearms legally carried within the school property during those same hours?

    • Hi Chuck. Thanks for your question! Please see the response below from Pennsylvania Independent Program Attorney Justin McShane.

      “Even if school is not in session, and even during Church services on Sunday, it is ill-advised to carry a firearm on to school grounds. Many people have given their opinion that the recent case of Commonwealth v Goslin automatically allows them to carry a firearm on school grounds provided that they have a LTCF even when school is in session. We strongly disagree with that very broad of a reading of the case as you can see here: We are well aware that some local District Attorneys have publicly said that they will not file against a LTCF holder when on school ground, but this is simply a pledge and is not legally binding. It is, at most, a voiced intent on policy, but policy can and does change. Because we are a statewide member organization, we need to advise folks consistently and assume the worst in our politicians and not presume anything when it comes to the police or prosecutors other than if they can, they will. That is the safest course of action. As we all know, there are some very gun friendly municipalities and counties and there are several who are not and vehemently anti-gun. Therefore, our advice remains no weapons on school grounds for now. I know and appreciate that being a disarmed future victim in a historical magnet for active killers (otherwise known as schools) is not a great life choice, but neither is being prosecuted and being the test case. While it may seem romantic to be that test case, I can assure you from the point-of-view of your family and what the anti-gun press will do, it may not be worth it. Ultimately, it is always a balancing act between personal self-protection by always carrying your tools with you versus the law. Some people resolve this one way and others may do so another way. As adults, we all judge the relative risk that we are willing to accept in all of our actions. Ultimately, it is your choice and God bless America for allowing us that choice, but we urge you to really think about what we write here as reports that carrying a firearm or any weapon in school is a-ok with no risk is just not accurate. Until the politicians make clear the law here in PA or a court case comes out that clearly says it is ok, then we suggest against it.”

  3. What about having a gun on a school bus that is NOT being used as a school bus at the time? The Harrisburg Farm Complex hosts some gun-related and sporting events and they sometimes use school busses to transport people from parking lots to the complex…the Great American Outdoorsman Show is a classic example. Can I carry a gun on my person on that “school” bus when it is not being used for a school event while I am being transported to and from the parking lots? Thanks for all the work that you do to protect our Second Amendment rights and those who choose to exercise them.

  4. In PA, I thought it was also illegal to carry a firearm when providing transportation to and from school. (regardless of where you park)

  5. Thank you for this timely & very helpful explanation. I’ll just stay away because I have no children still in K-12. But, in the rare case I need to pick-up or drop-off a friends or families child I will lock my side arm, concealed or not, in the glove box and then lock the doors….

  6. The church I attend has it’s own K-12 school co-located in the same building. Does that mean it is unlawful for me to carry concealed to Sunday services? Or any service or event when school is not in session?

  7. What about gun free zones in PA?

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