Are Weapons Allowed on School Grounds in California?
Violence in schools is a tragic story. A student or another person may bring a gun or weapon onto school grounds. Unfortunately, the result is often deadly.
California takes violence on school grounds very seriously. For that reason, the state has passed several laws addressing weapons on school grounds. Generally, there is a zero-tolerance policy for violence and guns on school grounds.
California’s Gun-Free School Zone Act
The Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1995 prohibits discharging, attempting to discharge, or possessing a firearm in a school zone. The law defines “school” as a private or public institution that provides education for kindergarten or grades 1-12. The “school zone” is defined as an area within 1,000 feet of the school grounds.
The Act does not prevent someone from possessing a firearm within a school zone if the person is on private or business property that is not part of the school grounds. However, the possession of the firearm must be lawful.
There are a few exceptions to the Act that protect the right of lawful gun owners to possess firearms. For example, the lawful transport of firearms in a vehicle is permitted if the firearms are in a locked container or trunk is protected by California’s concealed weapons laws.
Self-defense laws protect the right of a person to have a firearm if they are in reasonable fear that their life is in grave danger. Peace officers, security officers, and specific persons authorized to carry concealed weapons may also be exempt from the law.
Other defenses could apply if you are charged with violating the Gun-Free School Zone Act. For example, a criminal defense lawyer can investigate your arrest and determine if your legal rights were violated or if another defense would apply in your case.
Penalties for Violating the Ban on Firearms in School Zones
If you are arrested and charged with violating the ban on firearms in a school zone, you could face serious penalties. The facts of the case determine whether you are charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.
You are looking at between two to five years in state prison for possessing a gun in a school zone. If you discharge a firearm in a school zone, it is an automatic felony that carries a three to seven-year prison sentence.
Violating the provisions of the Act also results in the loss of your gun rights.
Other Weapons on School Grounds in California
Guns are not the only weapons that are prohibited on school grounds in California. Penal Code §626.10(a)(1) defines other weapons that are prohibited from being on school grounds.
Weapons you cannot have on school grounds include:
- Pellet guns
- Folding knives with a lockable blade
- BB guns
- Razors with an unguarded blade
- Stun guns
- Knives with blades 2.5 inches or longer
There are some exceptions for peace officers and military service members carrying out their duties.
Individuals who carry prohibited weapons onto school grounds can be charged and convicted of a crime, even if they are unaware they committed the crime. You do not have to intend to use the weapon to be charged with a crime. Therefore, carrying a prohibited weapon for protection could result in a criminal charge and penalty.
Carrying weapons on school grounds in California is a wobbler offense. Therefore, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. Depending on the charge and the circumstances of your case, you could serve a year in county jail or up to three years in state prison. If there are aggravating circumstances, your jail or prison sentence may be extended.
What Should You Do If You Are Arrested for a Weapons Charge on School Grounds in California?
Do not panic. An arrest is not a conviction. Do not resist arrest, but do not answer questions or make a statement. State that you are exercising your right to remain silent and that you want an attorney.
There could be one or more criminal defenses to the charges that could result in the charges being dismissed or an acquittal. For example, did the police officers have probable cause to search your person, vehicle, or possessions. If not, the evidence obtained might be inadmissible in court.
Was the weapon a prohibited weapon? The statute contains a specific list of prohibited weapons on school grounds. Were you on school grounds? If you were not on school grounds, you might not be guilty of the crime.
A criminal defense lawyer carefully examines each element of your case to determine the best course of action. It is always in your best interest to seek legal counsel before talking to the police or the prosecutor or accepting a plea deal.