Gun Free Schools Act


It is no secret that a gun in the wrong hands, especially the hands of a minor, can be a very dangerous, and potentially deadly situation. Federal law strictly prohibits students from bringing firearms to school, and calls for a mandatory suspension of one calendar year in response to such threat. Enacting the Gun Free Schools Act, federal law takes great measures to ensure the safety of the students attending public schools.


The Gun-free Schools Act is a federal law that requires that all states that receive federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), have a law in effect that requires school districts to suspend students who bring firearms to school for a period of at least one calendar year (20 USC § 7961(b)(1)). However, it is left to the superintendent’s discretion if he or she wishes to modify this one-year suspension. This modification must be in writing, and must be determined on a case by case basis (Id.; §3214(3)(d); Appeal of R.S., 38 Ed Dept Rep 419 (1998)).


In compliance with the Gun Free Schools Act, a firearm is defined as the same term described in section 921 of Title 18 of the United States Code (20 USC § 7961(b)(3)). The following are also included within this definition:


  • Any weapon that can be, or is designed to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive. This definition also includes starter guns, and objects that can be readily converted to expel projectiles.
  • The frame or receiver of any weapon described.
  • Any firearm muffler, or silencer.
  • Any type of destructive device which is defined as any type of explosive, incendiary, or poisonous gas. Under this category, bombs, grenades, a rocket having more than four ounces of propellant is also included.
  • Any other form, or combination of parts designed or intended to cause destructive harm.


Under the Gun Free Schools Act, and New York’s Education law, school districts must have a policy that requires that the superintendent of school districts refer all students who bring weapons to school to the county attorney for juvenile delinquency proceedings. Under these same laws, students older than 16 are to be reported to the appropriate law enforcements officials (20 USC § 7961(h)(1); 3214(3)(d)).


This no-nonsense policy applies to students who bring firearms not only to school, but to any event that is under the control and supervision of the school district. This means that this law applies for school-involved extracurricular activities, school sports games, pep rallies, and even field trips. This law also extends to students with disabilities, who often find themselves under the protection of the American Disabilities Act. However, if a disabled person brings a firearm to school, he or she will be reprimanded, and disciplined just like anyone else.


Students who are charged with possession of a firearm at school are entitled to the same rights and provisions as a student subject to a long-term suspension. He or she has the right to a proper hearing and due process. Though the Gun-Free Schools act does not mention alternative education in the one-year suspension period, New York’s Education Law requires that school districts provide alternative education to students who are charged of this crime, and are of compulsory age (20 USC § 7961(b)(2); § 3214(3)(e)).


Students bringing firearms to school is an extremely serious issue. Whether it is a result of bullying, or a student wanting to show off to his or her friends, bringing a firearm to school is a dangerous, and potentially deadly issue. The federal government, as well as the state of New York have stepped in to ensure that issues like this are not taken lightly, and appropriate corrective action is taken. New York goes an extra step, requiring that students who are charged are not left behind, but instead, that they receive alternative education, so they are not thrown away, perhaps giving potentially dangerous students to continue their education, and potentially turn their life around for the better. 



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Angel A. Castro, III, Esq.

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