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Weapons at school: The potential criminal law impact on students

Many students do not realize the potential impacts of carelessly leaving a weapon in their pocket, backpack, or vehicle.  This article is intended to focus on educating students and parents on situations where a student might violate the law, not to provide a full analysis of every scenario where carrying a weapon at a school would be allowed or not allowed.

The law prohibits the possession of a weapon in a school safety zone, at a school function, or on a bus or other transportation furnished by a public or private school, unless it is done within a specific exception in the law.  Due to the potential ramifications, it is better not to take a chance if you are not positive you fall within one of these exceptions.

Students who are accused of violating this law that are 17 years old or older at the time of the allegation are charged as, and prosecuted as, adults.  For those students, this means that they are charged with a felony and can face incarceration between two and twenty years, as well as a maximum fine of ten thousand dollars.  For the students who are 16 years old and younger at the time of the offense, they can be prosecuted in juvenile court and also face the potential of incarceration.

The law provides a lengthy definition of a weapon, which includes various types of firearms, knives, bludgeoning weapons, flails, ninja stars, and tasers.  It is worth noting the very broad weapon definitions that include: “any weapon designed or intended to propel a missile of any kind;” and a “bludgeon-type weapon.”  Either of these could encompass a lot of different items that a parent or student might not consider a weapon.

For those wanting to read the exact legal definition, the law says a weapon “means and includes any pistol, revolver, or any weapon designed or intended to propel a missile of any kind, or any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, any other knife having a blade of two or more inches, straight-edge razor, razor blade, spring stick, knuckles, whether made from metal, thermoplastic, wood, or other similar material, blackjack, any bat, club, or other bludgeon-type weapon, or any flailing instrument consisting of two or more rigid parts connected in such a manner as to allow them to swing freely, which may be known as a nun chahka, nun chuck, nunchaku, shuriken, or fighting chain, or any disc, of whatever configuration, having at least two points or pointed blades which is designed to be thrown or propelled and which may be known as a throwing star or oriental dart, or any weapon of like kind, and any stun gun or taser as defined” by law. As the list makes evident, this is a very broad list that many items can potentially fall in to.

The law does exclude any of these items used for classroom work authorized by the teacher of that class. There are many other exceptions, but the ones that most commonly apply to students are the exceptions that say the law does not apply to:

  • Baseball bats, hockey sticks, or other sports equipment possessed by competitors for legitimate athletic purposes; and
  • Participants in organized sport shooting events or firearm training courses.

There are many other exceptions and guidelines for other circumstances, but it is best to make sure the person falls clearly within these exceptions before risking having a weapon under one of these circumstances.

In addition to understanding the definition of a weapon, it is important to understand what a school safety zone and school function mean.  School safety zones include any real property (land or building) owned by or leased to a public or private school, local board of education that is used for school, as well as public or private technical schools, vocational schools, colleges, universities, or other institution of postsecondary education.  School functions include any school function or activity that occurs outside of a school safety zone for a public or private school.  For the purposes of the law, it does not matter if school was not in session at the time of the offense or that the property was being used for a purpose besides school.

Many times, this type of charge comes up without any type of malicious intent on behalf of the student. It can be a knife left in a backpack from a weekend camping trip, a firearm left in a vehicle from going hunting or to a target range, or any other weapon that might qualify left harmlessly in a vehicle.

These charges can arise when a student is searched for whatever reason, such as a tip from another student (even about things other than weapons).  It could also come up when an officer or other school employee sees something in a student’s vehicle in the parking lot or in a backpack as a student opens it.

Outside of the potential criminal consequences that may befall someone accused of these violations, there may also be separate school consequences, which can result in suspensions, expulsions or other ramifications from the school.  These laws should be taken very seriously and parents should take steps to make sure their teens are aware of these laws. When in doubt about whether something is a weapon or where you are allowed to possess a weapon, always err on the side of caution and leave it at home.