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The decision by school districts around Colorado to open up for in-person classes or, in the alternative, provide some version of virtual learning, is still quite in flux at the moment. Many districts have delayed in-person learning, while others, and many private schools, plan to reopen as normal. This brings up important questions for lawful firearm owners: does the current pandemic affect a person’s ability to lawfully carry a firearm; and what are the laws surrounding firearms and school zones?

Have Any Gun Laws Changed?

To start, there have been no changes to Colorado firearm laws relating to schools as a result of the pandemic. As such, the general rule remains that it is unlawful for a person to knowingly and unlawfully carry, bring, or have in his/her possession a deadly weapon in or on the real estate and all improvements erected thereon of any public or private elementary, middle, junior high, high, or vocational school or any public or private college, university, or seminary. C.R.S. 18-12-105.5.

Exceptions to Prohibitions of Firearms on School Grounds

However, the following exceptions apply: It is not an offense:

  1. if the firearm is unloaded and remains inside a motor vehicle while upon the grounds of any public or private college, university, or seminary;
  2. if the person in possession of the firearm is in that person’s own dwelling or place of business or on property owned or under that person’s control at the time he/she is carrying the firearm; or
  3. if the person is in a private automobile or other private means of conveyance and is carrying a weapon for lawful protection of that person’s or another’s person or property while traveling. Id.

Individuals who are licensed to carry are provided two additional important exceptions to the general prohibition of firearms on school grounds. First, a permittee may possess a handgun on the real property of a public school so long as the handgun remains in his or her vehicle and, if the permittee is not in the vehicle, the handgun is in a compartment within the vehicle and the vehicle is locked. C.R.S.  18-12-214. Second, a lawful permittee may possess a firearm on the grounds of a private school.  C.R.S. 18-12-105.5; C.R.S. 18-12-214.

However, caution is certainly advised to permit holders. In Colorado, private schools are identical to private businesses in the sense that a person could be in violation of trespassing laws if he or she possessed a firearm on private property where the owner has prohibited firearms. Further, both state and federal law enforcement take possession of firearms on school grounds extremely seriously and any act in violation of the law will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.

Dual-Purpose Facilities

Colorado carry laws for dual-purpose facilities, such as churches, after-school programs, daycare, or education centers, present an additional wrinkle to the analysis.  It is first important for firearm owners to know whether their child’s dual-purpose facility is part of a public or private school. If it is located in a building on the real estate, or any improvements erected thereon, of a public school, firearms are prohibited unless one of the exceptions apply. If it is a building is on private grounds, and the firearm owner is a lawful permit holder, that person needs to determine whether firearms are prohibited on the property to ensure he/she may lawfully possess a firearm.

Finally, Colorado Law makes no distinction between a school being open versus closed as it pertains to possession of firearms. Instead, the question remains whether a person is possessing a firearm on the real estate and all improvements erected thereon of any public or private elementary, middle, junior high, high, or vocational school or any public or private college, university, or seminary. If the answer is yes, it remains unlawful to possess a firearm on that property, unless one of the exceptions applies, regardless of whether the school is not currently operational.

Can Students Carry Weapons On Campus?

For students returning to in-person learning, members may also be concerned with the ability of children to carry weapons other than firearms in school. For adults, Colorado law regarding non-firearm weapons presents a curious grab-bag—allowing certain types of weapons to be carried freely, while prohibiting even the possession of others. For example, Colorado law generally prohibits possession of “blackjacks” and “brass knuckles,” while the statutes were recently amended to allow the possession of switchblade and gravity knives. But it is generally illegal to carry a concealed knife on one’s person, while it is legal to carry tasers, stun guns and pepper spray.

Speaking of, pepper spray and mace are not addressed in the Colorado statutes. A person no doubt could be charged with assault (or sued for battery) for using such items on another person where such use was not justified by self-defense or otherwise. But possessing and carrying the items is legal.

For children, the rules become more complicated, and often depend on school policies more than statutory law. For example, C.R.S. 18-12-105.5 is not limited solely to firearms and makes it a crime to possess any deadly weapon on school grounds, but the Colorado Court of Appeals has held that a juvenile did not violate the statute by possessing a knife because the knife did not meet the definition of a deadly weapon where: (1) the knife blade was less than 3½ inches long, and (2) the juvenile did not have the intent to use the weapon to cause bodily injury. People ex rel. J.W.T., 93 P.3d 580 (Colo. App. 2004). In holding that the statutory elements of the crime were not met, however, the court took pains to note “we are not suggesting that schools may not adopt regulations prohibiting possession of any knife or weapon.”

School District Restrictions

In fact, most elementary, middle, and high schools and school districts in Colorado strictly limit students’ ability to possess any kinds of weapons on campus. Unless one has inquired with the school regarding their policies regarding a specific weapon and learned that it is allowed, it is best to assume that any weapon would be deemed a violation of school rules and result in serious disciplinary consequences.

Colleges, while included in the C.R.S. 18-12-105.5’s prohibitions of possession of deadly weapons, may have different policies regarding non-lethal weapons on campus and/or in the dorms. Again, it is advisable to inquire about the policies of the specific college or rooming facility before bringing such a weapon to school.

If you have any questions about the use of force or weapons at school or on campus, contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak with your Independent Program Attorney.

The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.