California’s Gun-Free School Zone Act (Penal Code section 626.9) makes possessing a firearm in a school zone punishable as a crime. Criminal liability attaches unless the individual (1) has obtained the permission of the school district superintendent or equivalent school authority to carry a firearm or (2) falls within the exemptions under the statute.
The statute does not limit the ability of a school district to establish its own rules to regulate prohibited conduct or dangerous objects pursuant to its broad authority under permissive Education Code sections 35160 and 35160.1. Likewise, the statute does not require the school district superintendent or college authority (or their designee) to grant permission when a licensed individual asks to bring a weapon on campus. Instead, in the absence of policy direction, the school district superintendent or college authority has discretion to grant or deny permission to bring a firearm into a school zone.
Schools may regulate the conduct of employees and other individuals on campus through board policy and regulation and may adopt rules that prohibit anyone from possessing a firearm or other weapon on school grounds, even with a license to carry concealed weapons or other authorization.
Reach of the Gun Free School Zone Act
The Gun Free School Zone Act defines a school zone as the area in, or on the grounds of, a public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12, or within 1,000 feet of school grounds. The Act also applies to any person who brings or possesses a loaded or unloaded firearm on the grounds of a college or university, or buildings owned or operated for student housing, teaching, research or administration that are contiguous to or clearly marked as college or university property. Any person who brings a firearm into these areas without permission of the university or college president or designee is criminally liable.
The Gun Free School Zone Act does not extend to a residence, place of business, or private property that is not part of the school grounds, if the possession of the firearm is otherwise lawful. The criminal prohibitions of the Act do not apply to an unloaded pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed on the person that is in a locked container or in the locked trunk of a motor vehicle. The criminal prohibitions also do not apply if the person possessing the firearm reasonably believes he or she is in grave danger and is protected by a current court-issued restraining order because of a threat to the person’s life or safety.
Individuals Exempted under the Gun Free School Zone Act
Under the Gun Free School Zone Act, criminal liability does not apply to certain individuals, including:
- A duly appointed peace officer;
- A full-time paid peace officer of another state or the federal government who is carrying out official duties while in California;
- Any person summoned by any of these officers to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace while he or she is actually engaged in assisting the officer;
- A member of the military forces of this state or of the United States who is engaged in the performance of his or her duties;
- An armored vehicle guard, engaged in the performance of his or her duties;
- A security guard authorized to carry a loaded firearm pursuant to statute;
- Individuals in an existing shooting range at a public or private school or university or college campus;
- An honorably retired peace officer authorized to carry a concealed or loaded firearm pursuant to federal and state statute;
- A peace officer who is authorized to carry a firearm by the appointing agency such as a school district with its own police force.
We recommend school districts and colleges review their board policies, administrative regulations, or other rules to ensure they express the Board’s views and preferences regarding the possession of firearms or other weapons in school zones by any person, including staff. To ensure the policy clearly applies to individuals who may be exempt from the Gun Free School Zone Act, the policy should address possession of weapons, as applicable, “notwithstanding any license or other authorization to carry a firearm.”