Let’s begin with a quick refresher. The Gun-Free School Zones Act prohibits any unauthorized individual from knowingly possessing a firearm in a “school zone” as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(25). The school zone includes the grounds of public, private, or parochial elementary schools and high schools, and the areas within 1,000 feet of those grounds. The two most important exceptions to this law are that (1) states and their political subdivisions can issue licenses that exempt individuals from the prohibition, and (2) if your home happens to be located within the federal “gun-free school zone,” federal law still allows you to keep a firearm in your home.
End of story, right? Unfortunately, not.
You may find this hard to believe, yet during this COVID-19 period in the U.S., the school zone may be redefined by some overzealous school administrators to include your own home due to online learning. Even if you could previously have a gun in the zone, it may not matter anymore. Yes, a designated “gun-free school zone” could be coming to your home! How could this possibly happen?
It’s Your Home and You can Do Whatever You Want… Right?
Not so fast. For starters, schools are racing to adjust to the new “normal,” and take into account the virtual classroom and its impact on school dress codes, lunch programs, bad classroom behavior, and more. When it comes to redefining a “gun-free school zone,” it is within the realm of possibility that officials could attempt to include your own home. The federal law on Gun-Free School Zones leaves it up to the states to define exactly what a school is and is not. It is even possible that some schools may adopt a “No Weapons on Zoom” policy given this platform is now the “school.” Not possible, you say? Well, in these pandemic times, it seems a lot is going on that infringes on your freedoms. Let’s examine how this could happen.
Many states prohibit the carrying of firearms on school property and at school-sponsored activities or events which can occur off school property. For instance, in Michigan, the definition of “school property” includes property used for school purposes to impart instruction to children, and firearms are generally prohibited on school property. In Texas, firearms are generally prohibited in the physical buildings of a school or educational institution, as well as on any grounds where an activity sponsored by a school or educational institution is presently being conducted.
Is Virtual Learning a School-Sponsored Activity?
These laws and others lead to the very real concern that virtual learning is creating a situation where parents will be told they must remove all firearms from their homes. When a child is at home attending online classes, the home is arguably being used for an activity sponsored by a school or educational institution (specifically to impart instruction to children). Do parents need to be concerned?
Teacher Saw an 11-Year-old Student with a “Gun” Visible On Camera.
This happened recently at Seneca Elementary School in Maryland. School officials there stated that the home is controlled by the school’s authority during the course of the virtual school day.
At this elementary school, a teacher became “alarmed” by a scene inside a student’s home. The teacher spotted a “gun” visible on camera and mounted on a wall in what appeared to be the student’s bedroom. The teacher then alerted the school authorities. What the teacher actually saw was the fifth-grader’s BB gun collection hanging prominently on the wall.
On June 1, 2020, school authorities contacted the police, who came knocking on the door of Courtney Lancaster Sperry’s home to investigate the conditions within her fifth-grader’s bedroom.
Sperry knew she didn’t have to allow law enforcement into her home without a warrant but opted to do so anyway. Under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a homeowner does not have to allow the police to enter their home without a warrant unless one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement is present.
After 20 minutes of searching Ms. Sperry’s home, the officers commended the 11-year-old for his proper mounting and stowing of the BB guns. Police found nothing to cause alarm and left. What they found was a regular kid in pursuit of his dreams of becoming an Eagle Scout. The boy took great care to neatly, securely, and proudly display his Red Ryder BB gun, airsoft rifles, compound bows, and other gear on his bedroom wall.
Watch Out for Changing School Video Conference Policies.
You’ll want to be aware of any changes to school policies regarding the virtual classroom and online learning. How your student appears on camera and what can be seen in the background around your home may become a violation of school policy, potentially resulting in disciplinary action, suspension, or expulsion.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court established that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep firearms in the home for self-defense. Because of Heller, it is unlikely that a law-abiding gun owner could be criminally charged or forced to remove firearms from their home simply due to online learning. School district and school board policies are a different matter. The courts provide far greater leeway to schools when it comes to establishing codes of conduct, disciplinary rules and safety procedures. A violation of these school policies could result in suspension or expulsion. Even if you wanted to challenge the school’s policy as unconstitutional, you could be faced with years of legal delays and extreme disruptions to the learning and education paths of your children.
For more information on the impact of online learning in the home and your gun rights, contact 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.