Gun-Free School Zones

May 3, 2017

What are gun-free school zones?

The “Gun-Free School Zones Act” prohibits the general public from carrying guns in and around k-12 schools, with many exceptions which we note below. The “Gun-Free Schools Act” prohibits students from carrying guns on k-12 campuses and conditions federal education funding on weapons related expulsion policies.

Why do we need them?

CDC reports that student homicides at school actually make up only 1% of homicides among school-age youth. Because of these laws, students are much safer at school than at home.

However, for what feels like the umpteenth time, the gun lobby is trying to repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 that was originally signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. The bill, HR34 already has the pledged support of President Trump and would repeal the common sense policy.

This call to repeal gun-free school zones often comes after school shootings that receive massive amounts of media attention. Gun enthusiasts claim that armed teachers and guards would prevent these types of attacks. However, many of their arguments are actually currently covered by legal exceptions in the law.  Click here to see the full text of the existing law (you’ll need to scroll down to (q)(2)).

Can armed guards protect students from shooters?

Federally, Police officers and armed guards in schools are not banned at all. The law states that “a law enforcement officer acting in his or her official capacity” is exempt from the ban on guns in schools, as is “an individual in accordance with a contract entered into between a school in the school zone and the individual or an employer of the individual”. Schools could hire police officers or contract with professional armed guards.

Whether this is effective or not is another story. Columbine High School had an armed police officer on duty the day of the tragic shooting that occurred there in 1999.

Can students learn to shoot at school?

Gun enthusiasts often lament a lost time in which students would take up target shooting or skeet shooting at school as part of physical/outdoor education, course electives, or after-school programs. This brings us to yet another exception to the Gun-Free School Zones Act: “a firearm possessed by an individual for use in a program approved by a school in the school zone”.

Some local laws differ on guns in school-approved programs, but these are not covered by the Gun-Free School Zones Act.

I passed a background check to get my license to carry. Can I carry at a school?

State laws vary on this point. The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act purposefully left to each state whether to allow state licensed individuals to carry on school grounds. The relevant language:

[This law] does not apply to the possession of a firearm…if the individual possessing the firearm is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located…and the law of the State or political subdivision requires that, before an individual obtains such a license, the law enforcement authorities of the State or political subdivision verify that the individual is qualified under law to receive the license.

While we believe that keeping guns locked and unloaded is safest around children, many states do allow licensed individuals to carry firearms in school. For a comprehensive guide to what your state allows, check our your local licensing authority’s website and the “Guns In Schools” page on Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence website.

What can I do to prevent guns from entering my child’s school?

Students are much safer at schools thanks to the Gun-Free Schools Zones Act, so call your Congressperson today to let them know you want to keep it that way! Tell them to vote NO on HR 34, the repeal of gun-free zones. Click here to find out who your Representative is. The phone numbers of the Massachusetts delegation are below. You can also  click here to send a message to your member of Congress, urging them to keep schools gun-free.

Rep. Joe Kennedy, III: 202-225-5931
Rep. Seth Moulton: 202-225-8020
Rep. Katherine Clark: 202-225-2836
Rep. Niki Tsongas: 202-225-3411
Rep. Stephen Lynch: 202-225-8273
Rep. Mike Capuano: 202-225-5111
Rep. Jim McGovern: 202-225-6101
Rep. Bill Keating: 202-225-3111
Rep. Richard Neal: 202-225-5601


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