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Check Those Backpacks Before You Head Back to School...

Posted by attorney Douglas Rohan

Now that school is back in session, I wanted to take a moment to analyze OCGA 16-11-127.1, which is the statute that criminalizes the possession of a weapon or explosive in or near a school, school function, or school bus. Let’s leave explosives alone for now, I don’t expect there to be a lot of confusion around that item. What I would like to review is the definition of “weapon", the penalties for possessing them, and some thoughts on when you may or may not run into trouble if you do have one with you.

Section two of this statute defines a “weapon" as any pistol, revolver, or any weapon designed to propel a missile of any kind. It also includes an knife having two or more inches, a straight edge razor, spring stick, brass knuckles (made of any substance, not just brass), blackjack, bat, club, or any “bludgeon-type weapon" (think nun chucks). Also prohibited are tasers, or stun guns. It is also important to obtain a copy of the school’s policies, as the statute sets the state guidelines only. The school is empowered with the ability to make more stringent internal policies which exceed the state statutes.

The prohibition against weapons extends to the school grounds, the school bus, and any school function - such as prom, or a football game which might take place off campus. A playoff football game at the Georgia Dome could be included in this description. Of course there are some exceptions, including police officials who are carrying out their duties, or sports equipment during practice or a game. But just because you are on the baseball team, doesn’t mean you can roam the hallways wielding a bat. Another exception that could be of interest is those individual who are licensed to carry a weapon with a concealed carry permit under OCGA 43-38-10. This allows a licensed carrier to keep their weapon inside a parked vehicle parked on school property or a car that is in transit through a designated school zone.

Interestingly enough, the State will not allow you to argue that school was not in session or that the school bus was not being used by students at the time of the infraction. Consider the school to be a sanctuary, where there is a reasonable expectation that at least one student will always be found on campus during most hours of the day or over the weekend. Be sure to look through those backpacks that you took on your summer camping trip to make sure there isn’t a knife buried in the bottom of the bag. Or if you recently purchased a vehicle for your new senior, make sure you tear the car apart and check every nook and cranny. I have represented students on both such cases.

The penalties for violating this statute will vary widely depending on the jurisdiction, the type of weapon, and the intent of the person carrying the weapon. It can range from detention and probation, to jail time and expulsion from school. Take a few extra minutes now to double check that backpack you took camping with you over the summer…

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