Each year, Texans purchase more than 1 million guns. The state also has more than 20,000 private and public schools, servicing around 5 million students. Given these numbers, it’s inevitable that some people will carry a gun onto school property. But is it illegal to do so?
The answer is complicated. Both state and federal laws prohibit carrying guns onto school property, but there are exceptions to each law. If you’ve been stopped or arrested for carrying on school property, you should immediately contact a Houston criminal defense attorney at The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates. A conviction could send you to prison for years, as well as have other collateral consequences.
The Federal Gun-Free School Zones Act was passed in 1990 and makes it illegal to possess a firearm knowingly in a school zone. Although the law only applies to guns that moved in interstate commerce, the reality is that most guns will probably qualify. So you definitely need to be aware of this law.
A school zone is defined as the school grounds or within 1,000 feet of a public, private, or parochial school.
There are exceptions to the law:
- The carrier is licensed by the state of Texas
- The firearm is unloaded and locked up
- You are a member of law enforcement
- You carry as part of an approved program
- A written contract authorizes carrying the gun
Penalties are stiff. A defendant can be sentenced to 5 years in federal prison if convicted of having a gun in a school zone.
The primary law is found at Section 46.03 of the Penal Code. It makes it a crime to possess a firearm intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly on the school premises unless pursuant to written regulations or written authorization of the school.
Interestingly, being licensed is not a defense to the Texas law. However, you might have a defense if you promptly leave the premises after receiving notice that you can’t carry onto the school.
If charged, you can be convicted of a third-degree felony. In Texas, you could end up in prison for 2-10 years if this is your first criminal offense. You also face a maximum $10,000 fine. If you have prior convictions, then your charges could get bumped up, and you face even more time in prison.
Contact Tad Nelson
Texas gun laws are always changing. We aren’t surprised that many members of the public can’t keep up with the changes. There are certain defenses we could bring. For example, both federal and state laws require that prosecutors prove you had a certain mindset when carrying. Under federal law, it is “knowingly” carrying—that is, you knew you had the gun on you and were entering a school zone. The state law lowers this requirement to recklessness. Still, your negligent, honest mistake might not qualify under either law.For help, please contact our law firm. Our Houston criminal defense attorney can get to work going over what evidence the prosecutor has and your legal options.