The exciting back-to-school time of year is here again, but unfortunately, this year it is affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Many schools around the State of Tennessee are beginning to adopt remote, virtual, or hybrid classes and move away from the more traditional in-person method of instruction. This has renewed interest about the restrictions of possessing firearms in school zones.
What Does the Law Say About Carrying on Campus Grounds?
The State of Tennessee is strict when it comes to the possession of guns in school zones. With very limited exceptions, both the unintentional and intentional possession of a weapon on school property is prohibited. The mere accidental possession of a firearm on any property that is owned or otherwise in use by a school can lead to a Class B misdemeanor. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1309(c)(1)(A). Alternatively, the intentional possession of a firearm on property that is owned or used by a school, can lead to a Class E felony charge. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1309(c)(1)(A). The Tennessee Code also very broadly defines school property; buses, athletic fields, and school buildings are all included. Essentially, any property that is owned, operated, or in use by any public or private school, school district, or board of regents is deemed to be a school zone.
A church, temple or any place of worship is generally not a gun-free zone unless otherwise posted as such. It is only when a church (or other religious organization) is used for dual purposes and also houses a school, preschool, or childcare facility that issues arise. The building which houses the school becomes a gun-free zone because it is in use as a school.
What About Remote Learning?
This leads to an interesting question regarding the remote learning and hybrid classes discussed above. If a teacher is teaching from their home or a student learning remotely at home, does the home become school property for the purposes of firearm prohibition? The answer, in my opinion, is absolutely not. Although there is no case law on this new and unique situation, to determine that a private residence was school property because a teacher or student were using it for remote learning purposes would be a serious infringement on the Second Amendment rights we all share.
Federal Law in School Zones
We must also address federal law in relation to firearm possession in school zones. The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 prohibits individuals from knowingly possessing a firearm in a school zone unless they fall within one of the exceptions found in 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2). One such exception is if the individual possesses a carry license that is issued by the state in which the school zone is located. For example, under federal law, an individual who possesses an Enhanced Handgun Carry Permit issued by the State of Tennessee would be permitted to possess a firearm in a school zone located in Tennessee. Additionally, under the Gun-Free School Zones Act, a person without a license issued by the state in which the school zone is located who is not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm may possess a firearm in a school zone so long as the firearm is unloaded and either locked in a container or locked in a firearm rack inside a vehicle, similar to the Tennessee State law exception. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1309(c)(1)(B).
Remember the fact that although the children may not be present in the school due to COVID-19 or for any other reason, this does not exempt one from complying with federal or state law. Even if schools have decided to use remote teaching methods, it is still school property, is still operated by the staff, and remains under the protection of state and federal laws.
If you have any questions on Tennessee gun law or regarding carrying firearms in school zones, please contact U.S. LawShield and ask to be connected 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.