California Gun-Free School Zone Act – Penal Code 626.9
For owners of firearms in California, it has become increasingly important to know where you are legally able to carry. While it is difficult to estimate the number of gun owners, a 2001 survey found that 21% of respondents in California indicated they had firearms in or around their home.
The number of gun owners continues to increase each year, and if you are one of the many who own a firearm, it is vital to understand the limitations set forth in the 1995 California Gun-Free Zone Act.
Penal Code 626.9 PC makes it a crime to knowingly possess, loaded or unloaded, or to discharge, a firearm in a school zone. For purposes of this law, a firearm is defined as a device, “designed to be used as a weapon, from which is expelled through a barrel, a projectile by the force of an explosion or other form of combustion.” School zone is defined as an area, “in, or on the grounds of, a public or private school providing instruction to kindergarten or grades 1 to 12”, or within 1,000 feet of those grounds.
Not only could you face punishment for this violation, but you could be charged with unlawful carrying of a concealed weapon. Knowing the law is important, and if you are charged with any of these crimes you should immediately speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Prosecution of Violating the Gun-Free School Zone Act
In order for you to be convicted of violating the Gun-Free School Zone Act, the prosecution must prove all of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That you were in possession of a firearm;
- That you were within a school-zone; and
- That you knew, or reasonably should have known, that you were in a school-zone
However, given that the possession of the firearm is otherwise lawful, the prohibition does not extend to:
- A place of residence, place of business, or private property that is not part of the school grounds; and
- Instances when, if the firearm is an unloaded pistol, revolver, or other firearm which can be concealed, is in a locked container or in the locked trunk of a motor vehicle.
Sentencing and Punishment for Violating the Gun-Free School Zone Act
If you are convicted of violating California PC 626.9 by possessing a firearm in, or on the grounds of a public or private school, you face a sentence of two, three, or five years in a state prison.
If you are convicted of violating California PC 626.9 by possessing a firearm within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a public or private school, you face a sentence of two, three, or five years in a state prison when any of the following circumstances apply:
- You have been convicted of a felony in the past;
- You are prohibited from possessing a firearm pursuant to Chapter 2, or Chapter 3, of Division 9 of Title 4 of Part 6 of the California Penal Code, or Section 8100 or 8103 of the Welfare and Institutions Code; or
- The firearm is a pistol, revolver, or other concealable firearm, punishable as an unlawfully concealed weapon pursuant to Section 25400
Finally, if you are convicted of violating California PC 626.9 by discharging, or attempting to discharge, a firearm in a school zone, you face a sentence of three, five, or seven years in a state prison.
Possible Defenses to Violating the Gun-Free School Zone Act
If you have been charged with violating the Gun-Free School Zone Act, a skilled criminal defense attorney can raise several defenses on your behalf. These defenses may include:
- That any of the exemptions listed in the act applied to you at the time – Penal Code 626.9 PC includes many exemptions to the law, including carrying a firearm because you reasonably believe that you are in grave danger.
- That you did not know, or could not have reasonably known, that you were in a school zone – Determining whether you are 1,000 feet from the grounds of a school is not easy or clear cut, and you may have inadvertently crossed that distance threshold without any knowledge.
- That you were subject to an illegal search – If police conducted an illegal search at the time that your firearm was found, an experienced attorney should be able to argue for the dismissal of the charges against you.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Gun-Free School Zone Act
At Wallin & Klarich, we frequently receive questions from those facing a violation of the Gun-Free School Zone Act. These include:
Does the Gun-Free School Zone Act apply to colleges and universities?
Yes, the act does apply to colleges and universities, but only when a firearm is brought onto the actual school grounds.
Is it a violation to bring a firearm into a school zone when I have permission from the school to do so?
No, as long as that permission comes from the school district superintendent, a designee, or equivalent authority. However, this permission must be in writing.
There is a shooting range located at my local public or private school, college or university; can I be found in violation of PC 626.9 if I am driving to or from there?
No. Existing shooting ranges at public or private schools, college or university campuses are exempt from this law.
Contact Wallin & Klarich Today if You Have Been Charged with Violating the Gun-Free School Zone Act
Wallin & Klarich has been successfully defending those facing firearm violation charges for over 40 years. We can help you, too.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, an experienced Wallin & Klarich attorney can help no matter your location.
Call us at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will be there when you call.