The United States Congress enacted the Gun-Free School Zone Act (GFSZA) in 1990. Congress declared crime involving drugs, guns and criminal gangs to be a particularly pervasive nationwide problem requiring federal regulation. After a successful legal challenge to the Supreme Court, the act was amended in 1995 and has since been upheld.
Federal law defines a “school zone” as on the grounds of or within 1,000 feet of a public, parochial or private school. A civilian without a license to carry a concealed weapon who possesses a loaded firearm in public, even when he or she incidentally travels past a school or within a school zone technically violates this law.
Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich want you to be aware of the laws regulating guns in a school zone and the consequences you face if you are prosecuted for a violation of the Gun-Free School Zone Act.
Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in a School Zone (18 U.S.C. section 922(q)(2))
Under 18 U.S.C. section 922(q), it is unlawful for an unauthorized person to knowingly possess a firearm in a school zone or a firearm that has moved in or that otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce at a place that the individual knows or has reasonable cause to believe is a school zone.
The law does not apply to possession of a firearm:
- On private property within a school zone that is not part of the school grounds;
- To a licensed carrier of a concealed weapon by the state in which the school zone is located;
- If the weapon is not loaded and is locked in a container in or on a motor vehicle;
- By a person authorized to possess a gun within the school zone by the school’s administration;
- By an on-duty law enforcement officer; and
- Whenever an unloaded firearm is moved across school property in order to gain access to public or private hunting grounds, if entry onto school premises is permitted.
Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm in a School Zone (18 U.S.C. section 922(q)(3))
Federal law also prohibits any person from knowingly or “with reckless disregard for the safety of another” discharging or attempting to discharge a firearm in a school zone under 18 U.S.C. section 922(q)(3).
The law does not apply to the discharge of a firearm:
- On private property within a school zone that is not part of school grounds;
- As part of a program approved by a school in the school zone by someone participating in the program;
- By a person who is authorized via an employment contract entered into with the school (a security guard, for example); or
- By an on-duty law enforcement officer.
Consequences of Possessing or Discharging a Firearm in a School Zone (18 U.S.C. section 924(a)(4))
A violation of possessing or discharging a firearm in a school zone is a misdemeanor under federal law (18 U.S.C. section 924 (a)(4)). However, punishment can be quite severe.
If you are convicted of violating gun-free school zone laws pursuant to 18 U.S.C. section 922(q), you face up to five years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Additionally, if you are convicted of a separate federal offense during the same criminal proceeding, the law expressly prohibits a conviction under the Gun-Free School Zone Act from running concurrently with any other sentence. If you are sentenced to a prison term, you would be required to serve this sentence in addition to and consecutive to any other term of imprisonment.
Other Consequences of a Federal Firearms Conviction
If you are sent to a federal prison for violating the Gun-Free School Zone Act, you will be required to serve a minimum of 85% of your sentence.
In addition to the penalties described above, other consequences you may face for a federal conviction in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 922(q) may include the following:
- Three or more years of supervised probation upon your release from custody: During federal probation, you will have to meet with your assigned probation officer and comply with any conditions imposed by the court at the time of your sentencing.
- If you are required to be licensed in your profession, you could be subject to disciplinary proceedings with the state or professional agency which issued it. This could lead to the suspension or revocation of your license and could cost you your job.
- Certain federal firearms crimes could lead to your deportation if you are not a U.S. citizen. A firearms conviction could cause lawfully-admitted immigrants (even with permanent residential status) as well as undocumented aliens to be removed from or refused entry into the United States.
Furthermore, possession or discharge of a firearm in a school zone carries a sentence of more than one year, making it a disqualifying offense with respect to the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Although it is a misdemeanor, a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 922(q) would place you on the federal “prohibited persons” list. This means you would permanently lose your constitutional right to possess or carry a firearm unless you are granted a pardon by the President of the United States.
Wallin & Klarich Can Help You Fight Charges of Possessing a Gun in a School Zone
If you or someone you know has been arrested for unlawful possession or use of a gun in a school zone, you should speak to one of our experienced federal firearms crimes attorneys at Wallin & Klarich right away. Our attorneys have over 30 years of experience successfully defending our clients charged with federal firearms crimes.
We can help you avoid the serious consequences of a conviction. We are dedicated to providing you with the personal attention you deserve and developing a defense strategy that gives you the best options for a favorable outcome.
We have offices conveniently located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville. Our attorneys are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to make certain all of your constitutional rights are protected.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.