An analysis of weapons laws and the application of zero tolerance weapons policies in Georgia public schools
Gwatney, Michael Ray
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This study reviewed the weapons laws of the United States and Georgia, as well as the zero tolerance weapons policies of Georgia, and concluded that: 1. The implementation and enforcement of "zero tolerance" policies can be legally problematic for public school officials. The federal Gun-Free Schools Act requires states receiving federal funding to develop policies that require expulsion for students who bring weapons to school. 2. Georgia code § 16-11-127.1, a zero tolerance weapons law, provides strict definitions of items considered weapons, which are prohibited by the law on and within 1,000 feet of school property. Little or no discretion is afforded to school or law enforcement officials trying to make a determination about a person’s intent in possessing the unauthorized item. Elements that are typically essential to the commission of any crime, such as the accused person’s intent or state of mind, are not necessary for prosecution. By broadly defining the term "weapon" in Georgia law, a student who accidentally brings a pocketknife to school is as guilty as another who intentionally brings an assault rifle; both offenses are felonies under current Georgia law. 3. Local boards of education in Georgia are no longer limited to the application of civil codes and regulations pertaining to public education. Recent Georgia laws now allow local boards of education to administer campus police agencies, which have full authority to enforce criminal laws within school safety zones. 4. As agents of the government, public school officials are obligated to protect the rights of students and school personnel. Zero tolerance policies and laws make strong political statements; however, one-size-fits-all answers simply complicate the obligation school officials have to protect the rights of individuals within the school community. 5. Legislative revision to current Georgia law should be considered. Many common items used frequently during the daily operation of a school, which are otherwise legal to possess, are currently prohibited in Georgia’s school safety zones. This study is intended to assist public educational practitioners in making better decisions by having a thorough understanding of the laws concerning weapons in Georgia’s schools.