Since the late 1990s when school shootings first rose to the forefront of national concern in the United States, school districts have struggled to find effective ways to keep students and staff safe while on school property. More recent events, such as the shooting in Parkland, Florida and those closer to home in Ohio have renewed concerns about school safety, and a number of state legislators and gun advocates across the country have campaigned for arming school staff. Ohio law currently includes an exception that allows certain individuals to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. School boards should assess the associated risks and consult legal counsel when considering whether to authorize school staff to carry a gun.
Ohio firearms restrictions
In Ohio, a person must be at least 21 years old to purchase a handgun and at least 18 to purchase other firearms such as rifles and shotguns. Ohio is an “open carry” state that allows an individual who lawfully purchases a gun to possess it, subject to a number of limitations. To lawfully carry a concealed handgun, most individuals must obtain a concealed handgun license. However, active-duty members of the armed forces who have a valid military identification card are not required to obtain a concealed handgun license.
Ohio law prohibits individuals who are considered fugitives of the law or who have committed certain crimes from acquiring or carrying a firearm. Individuals who are dependent on drugs or alcohol, considered mentally incompetent, or the subject of a civil protection order also face restrictions on purchasing and carrying guns.
In general, it is a crime under state and federal law for a person to carry, attempt to carry or possess a deadly weapon such as a gun in a school safety zone. A school safety zone encompasses school buildings and premises, school activities, and school buses owned or operated by a city, local, exempted village, joint vocational, or community school board of education or the governing board of an educational service center.
Rule exceptions and school board considerations
The prohibition for carrying a weapon onto school grounds does not apply to law enforcement officers who are on or off duty. A few limited exceptions apply for possession of guns during school-approved programs or instructional demonstrations, as well as for individuals who have a concealed-carry permit and who either enter a school safety zone to pick up a student or leave the weapon in a locked car.
Additionally, Ohio is one of a number of states that grants a public school district board of education the discretion to authorize certain individuals to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. Boards of education may use this exception to authorize members of the school staff to carry guns while at school but they should first consider the many risks involved, like the chance that a student or visitor will gain access to or control of a gun that is on school property and injure someone as a result. School employees typically do not have access to the same level of training provided to law enforcement officers about use of deadly force against those who pose a safety threat and school staff should also understand that first responders may not be able to distinguish between the person who poses a threat and the staff member who is authorized to use a gun during an emergency situation. Some staff members may be unwilling or unable to carry a gun safely. Because of these many risks and considerations, some teachers’ unions have lobbied against bills that would permit or even require teachers to possess guns during the school day. Also, insurance companies may raise premiums or even revoke coverage for schools that arm staff members.
Before authorizing a staff member to carry a concealed weapon, school boards should consider where and how guns will be stored, who will carry them and how staff will be trained. They should review emergency management plans to determine how the weapons may be incorporated into protocols and procedures and develop a process to ensure that designated staff maintain a valid concealed-carry license in Ohio and participate in ongoing professional development programs. School boards should work closely with local law enforcement agencies as well.
How attorneys can help School districts should work closely with legal counsel as they consider and implement any plan to authorize a member of the school community to carry a concealed weapon. Gun owners should also consult with legal counsel if they plan to carry a weapon onto school property so that they are aware of legal limitations.
Deters and Leist are shareholders at the Cincinnati office law firm Ennis Britton Co., LPA. This column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association.