Pennsylvania School Gun Laws

Many people want to know what their rights are with respect to possessing a firearm on school property in Pennsylvania. This has been a question we get asked more and more frequently because on the one hand, people are buying handguns and other weapons at a record pace. On the other hand, there is a push to enact gun laws, in particular, to make children more safe. Thus, these two hot-button issues – child safety and gun ownership – naturally meet at the door of the schoolhouse.
There are both state and federal laws that inform the rights and limitations of citizens to carry a gun onto school property. The state law, simply put,…

…prohibits the possession of “weapons” on school property. Weapons include knives, nun-chuck sticks, firearms, shotguns, and any other instrument capable of inflicting serious bodily injury. Thus, this definition includes more than just handguns. One recent case, for example, held that a carbon dioxide-powered ball gun fell within the definition of a weapon.
The state law provides as a defense to possessing a weapon on school property, anyone who possesses such weapon in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity or course or where the weapon is possessed for other lawful purpose.
The federal law prohibits possession of a “firearm” in a “school zone.” A “school zone” includes all areas within 1,000 feet of school property. Interestingly, the federal law provides some exceptions to the “no firearms allowed” law. Thus, the federal no-carry law does not apply to private property not part of school grounds, if the individual is licensed to possess a firearm by laws of the state, and for a few other reasons, primarily dealing with teaching courses and law enforcement.
Thus, while the federal law provides that duly issued licensed/permit firearms holders appear to be permitted to carry a firearm onto school property, the state law of Pennsylvania clearly says otherwise. To date, no case has challenged this apparent conflict. Thus, the best practice is to not carry a weapon (as more broadly defined by state law) or a firearm on school property until and unless the law changes, or a court weighs in on this topic. Should you have any questions about such matters, contact the Pennsylvania Criminal defense attorneys of Menges & McLaughlin for help at