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Weapons at School

Under the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1995, a firearm could not be brought within 1,000 feet of a school. But the unfortunate reality is that weapons have shown up in our nation's school campuses far too often. While weapons at school can take many forms -- including pocket knives, switchblades, explosives and, yes, guns -- states have often grappled with the broadening definition of what a weapon actually is. This section provides background and legislative history of weapons at school, including limitations on school's authority, constitutional rights of students, and ramifications of possessing firearms on school grounds. Click on the links below to learn more.

School Violence and Weapons

Schools need to educate students, but above even this goal they must first provide a safe environment. As such, weapons bans have received a significant amount of support and broad bans on weapons have been proposed and implemented over the years. The Gun Free Schools Act of 1994 made it a federal crime to bring a gun close to a school. This law was struck down by the Supreme Court, which found that this was an impermissible extension of federal authority. The law was originally predicated on the federal authority to regulate interstate traffic, but the court found that neither guns nor schools were clearly related to interstate commerce.

Congress then amended the Gun Free Schools Act by making it a part of No Child Left Behind. The law required schools to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy towards weapons in schools in order to qualify to receive federal funding. Some states have created additional penalties beyond those required in No Child Left Behind and schools may also authorize their officials with broad authority to search students and their belongings when they have reasonable suspicion that the student may possess a weapon.

School Violence and Weapons: Metal Detectors in Schools

Metal detectors are an increasingly common sight in schools. Although unthinkable a few decades ago, school shootings and changes in technology have made metal detectors affordable, available, and justifiable for some schools. The use of metal detectors has stirred controversy among those concerned about the privacy of students. As a result, attitudes about metal detectors and their use vary greatly from state to state. Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, and some other states have held that metal detectors do not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of students. Their use is constrained in the same way that metal detector use is regulated in other environments, such as airports. Metal detectors, in this context, are an administrative search and may provide reasonable suspicion for more individualized searches. Other states have limited or otherwise qualified the use of metal detectors. California, for example, requires that a written notice describing the use of metal detectors and associated policies must be given to students.

Parental Accountability for School Violence

Parents are often accountable for their child's actions. They may be responsible for a child's damages resulting from criminal actions such as vandalism. Schools have, at times, sued students for the damages their children are responsible for at school. Parents can also be criminally liable if they "contributed to the delinquency of a minor." An example of this occurs when a child brings a parent's firearm to school, particularly when the parent failed to store the firearm in accordance with state laws. More serious issues can also result in the removal of the child from an abusive home, supervised visitation, or parenting classes.

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