Monday, October 13, 2014

What You Should Know about Guns in Schools

Since the late 1990s when school shootings first rose to the forefront of national concern in the United States, school districts have struggled to find effective ways to keep students and staff safe while on school property. More recent events such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have renewed concerns about school safety, and a number of state legislators and gun advocates across the country have campaigned for arming school staff. Ohio law currently includes an exception allowing certain individuals to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. School boards should assess the associated risks and consequences.

Q:       In Ohio, are there restrictions on who can possess, purchase, or carry firearms?
            A:        Yes. In Ohio, a person must be at least 21 years old to purchase a handgun, and at least 18 to purchase other firearms such as rifles and shotguns. Ohio law also prohibits individuals who are considered fugitives of the law or who have committed certain crimes to acquire or carry a firearm. Individuals who are dependent on drugs or alcohol or who are considered mentally incompetent are subject to the same prohibitions. In order to lawfully carry a concealed handgun, a person must obtain a concealed handgun license.                     

Q:       Is it legal for members of the public to bring concealed weapons on to school property?
A:        In general, it is a crime under state and federal law for a person to convey, attempt to convey, or possess a deadly weapon such as a gun in a school safety zone. A school safety zone encompasses school buildings and premises, school activities and school buses owned or operated by a city, local, exempted village, joint vocational or community school board of education or the governing board of an educational service center. This prohibition does not apply to law enforcement officers.  There are also a few limited exceptions for possession of guns during approved programs or instructional demonstrations, as well as for individuals who have a carry concealed permit and who enter a school safety zone to pick up a student. 

Q:       Can a board of education grant any exceptions to these rules?
A:        Ohio is one of a number of states that grants a public school district board of education the discretion to authorize certain individuals to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. Under Ohio Revised Code § 2923.122, a board of education may pass a resolution that permits certain individuals to carry a concealed weapon while on school property. Boards of education may use this exception to authorize members of the school staff to carry guns while at school.
Q:       What are the possible risks and consequences of arming school staff?
A:        While a number of schools in Ohio and throughout the country have considered arming staff as a school safety measure, there are a number of risks a school district board of education should consider when making such a decision. First, there is always a chance that a student or visitor will gain access to or control of a gun that is on school property and injure someone as a result. Second, school employees typically do not have access to the same level of training provided to law enforcement officers about use of deadly force against those, including children, who pose a safety threat. Third, many school employees do not want the responsibility of carrying a gun in school or being required to use a gun against someone else. For this reason, many teachers’ unions have lobbied against bills that would permit or even require teachers to possess guns during the school day. Fourth, school districts risk the possibility that employees will misuse a gun in their possession, and risk injuring colleagues or students. Finally, insurance companies may raise premiums or even revoke coverage for schools that arm staff members.     

This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information article was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by William Deters and Pamela Leist, both attorneys with the Cincinnati firm of Ennis, Roberts & Fischer Co., LPA. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney

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