California's "Gun-Free School Zone Act"
Penal Code 626.9 PC

Penal Code 626.9 PC is what's known as California's Gun-Free  School Zone Act. Enacted in 1995, this California firearms law prohibits you from possessing or discharging a firearm in a school zone.1 An area is a "school zone" if it is within  1,000 feet of public or private school grounds.2

Prior to its amendment in 1994, this act only  punished possessing firearms directly on school grounds.

The penalties for violating this law are severe and  include substantial prison time independent of the penalties you face for  simultaneously violating any other California  gun law.

Fortunately, Penal Code 626.9 PC has a number of  restrictions and exemptions that may excuse your otherwise criminal  conduct. If you fall within one of these  exceptions, you will be acquitted of any criminal wrongdoing.

Below, our California  criminal defense attorneys3 provide a brief overview of this law, its exceptions, and its penalties.

California's Gun-Free School Zone Act

The California Gun-Free School Zone Act punishes you  for possessing a firearm in a place that you know or reasonably should know is  within a school zone. It also punishes  you for discharging a firearm.or even attempting to discharge a firearm. within a  school zone if you do so with "reckless disregard for the safety of another  person".4

Let's take a closer look at some of these terms in  order to gain a better understanding of their legal definitions.

Firearm

Under the California Gun-Free School Zone Act, a  "firearm" means "any device, designed to be used as a  weapon, from which is expelled through a barrel, a projectile by the force of  any explosion or other form of combustion."5 For purposes of this section, it doesn't matter whether the firearm is  loaded or not.6

But on that note, openly carrying an  unloaded firearm is typically not a crime under California's open carry laws. However, these laws specifically prohibit you  from openly carrying within a school zone.7

School zone

A "school  zone" is "an  area in, or on the grounds of, a public or private school providing instruction  in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12, inclusive, or within a distance of 1,000  feet from the grounds of the public or private school."8

A "school zone" does not refer to "a place of residence or  place of business or on private property, if the place of residence, place of  business, or private property is not part of the school grounds and the  possession of the firearm is otherwise lawful."9

Example: The inside of a person's home is a part of  his/her private residence and is therefore outside the scope of a "school  zone". However, the sidewalk outside a  person's home is still considered "public" and therefore constitutes a "school  zone" if it is within 1,000 feet of a school.10

Exceptions to the  California Gun-Free School Zone Act

The  California Gun-Free School Zone Act is actually fairly limited in its  application. It allows for a number of  exceptions so that "law abiding gun owners" are not unjustly penalized under  this law.11

Some of these exceptions include (but are not limited to):

And  as San Bernardino  criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi explains,18 "In addition to the  exceptions that are written into this law, your criminal defense lawyer should  explore the wide range of legal  defenses that are applicable to California  firearms offenses. If, for example, your  gun was discovered during an illegal search and seizure, your Penal Code 626.9  PC charges will likely be dismissed, regardless of whether you also happen to  fall under one of the recognized exceptions to this law."

Penalties for violating California's Gun-Free  School Zone Act

Depending  on the circumstances, the penalties for violating California's Gun-Free School Zone Act vary  quite a bit, but generally include a two to five-year California State Prison sentence.

Discharging  a firearm in a school zone subjects you to a three, five, or seven-year prison  sentence and is always a felony.19

Similarly,  possessing a firearm on school grounds or on a university or college campus or  their associated buildings is always a felony.20 (NOTE: Although colleges and universities are  beyond the scope of the definition of a "school zone", possessing a gun on  these campuses still subjects you to prosecution under California's Gun-Free School Zone Act.)

Possessing  a firearm within a "school zone" when you

  1. have any prior felony conviction,
  2. are prohibited from possessing or acquiring a firearm under Penal Code 29800 PC  California's "felon with a firearm" law, or
  3. simultaneously suffer a felony conviction for carrying a concealed weapon

is  also an automatic felony.12 However, if you possess a firearm within a  school zone under a different set of circumstances from the three just listed, prosecutors  could charge you with violating California's  Gun-Free School Zone Act as either a misdemeanor or a felony.22

Additional penalties

In  addition to a county jail or state prison sentence, a violation of this law  will also likely result in the loss of your gun.

And  even more problematic is the fact that either a misdemeanor or a felony  conviction will result in a loss of your California  gun rights. For information about how to  restore your California  gun rights following a Penal Code 626.9 PC conviction, please review our  article on Restoring  Your California Gun Rights.

Finally,  if you are not a U.S.  citizen, a Penal Code 626.9 PC conviction subjects you to removal,  since firearm offenses are California crimes that can  lead to deportation.23

Call us for help.

For more information about California's Gun-Free School Zone Act, or to  discuss your case confidentially with one of our attorneys, please don't  hesitate to contact us at  Shouse Law Group.

Our California  criminal law offices are located in and around Los Angeles, Orange County,  San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay  area, and several nearby cities.

Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada  criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions relating to Nevada's firearms laws. For more information, we invite you to  contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.24

You may also find helpful information in our related  articles on California Firearm Laws; California's Open Carry Laws; Penal Code  29800 PC Felon with a Firearm; Penal Code 25400 PC Carrying a Concealed Weapon;  Penal Code 26150 and 26155 PC CCW Permits; Penal Code 25850 PC Carrying a Loaded Firearm;  California Legal Defenses; and Restoring Your California Gun Rights.

Legal  References:

1 California  Penal Code 626.9 PC -- The Gun-Free School Zone Act. ("(a) This section shall be known, and may be  cited, as the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1995. (b)  Any person who possesses a firearm in a place that the person knows, or  reasonably should know, is a school zone, as defined in paragraph (1) of  subdivision (e), unless it is with the written permission of the school  district superintendent, his or her designee, or equivalent school authority,  shall be punished as specified in subdivision (f)..(d) Except as provided in subdivision (b), it shall  be unlawful for any person, with reckless disregard for the safety of another,  to discharge, or attempt to discharge, a firearm in a school zone, as defined  in paragraph (1) of subdivision (e).")

2 See same. ("(e)(1) "School zone" means an area in, or on the grounds of, a  public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or grades 1 to  12, inclusive, or within a distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of the  public or private school.")

3 Our California criminal defense  attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly  Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona,  Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier.  We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state  in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay  area, and several nearby cities.

4 See Penal Code 626.9 PC, California's Gun-Free  School Zone Act, endnote 1, above.

5 California Penal Code 12001 PC --  Definitions.

6 Penal Code 626.9 PC, California's Gun-Free  School Zone Act. (Under subdivisions "h"  and "i", Penal Code 626.9 punishes an individual for possessing a firearm or  possessing a loaded firearm "upon the grounds of a  campus of, or buildings owned or operated for student housing, teaching,  research, or administration by, a public or private university or college, that  are contiguous or are clearly marked university property, unless it is with the  written permission of the university or college president, his or her designee,  or equivalent university or college authority, shall be punished by  imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years. Notwithstanding  subdivision (k), a university or college shall post a prominent notice at  primary entrances on noncontiguous property stating that firearms are  prohibited on that property pursuant to this subdivision." Because these subsections specifically refer  to.and set forth different punishments for "loaded" firearms.it stands to  reason that possessing a firearm (whether loaded or not) in a school zone  violates this law.

7 California's  open carry laws generally allow you to carry an unloaded, unlicensed firearm in public, so long as the weapon is in  plain sight. This law applies as long as  you are not in a prohibited area.  "Prohibited areas" include government buildings, post offices, and  school zones under California's  Gun Free School Zone Act.

8 Penal Code 626.9 PC,  California's  Gun-Free School Zone Act. ("(e) As used in this section, the following definitions  shall apply: (1) "School zone" means an area in, or on the grounds of, a public or private school  providing instruction in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12, inclusive, or within a  distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of the public or private school.")

9 See same. ("(c)  Subdivision (b) does not apply to the possession of a firearm under any of the  following circumstances: (1)  Within a place of residence or place of business or on private property, if the  place of residence, place of business, or private property is not part of the  school grounds and the possession of the firearm is otherwise lawful.")

10 People v. Tapia  (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 1153, 1165. ("The obvious purpose of the statute is to  protect children at and near schools. This purpose would be frustrated if the  very public sidewalks upon which schoolchildren walk to school were considered  outside the scope of the law. We must interpret the law to give it a " '  "reasonable and commonsense interpretation consistent with the apparent purpose  and intention of the lawmakers, practical rather than technical in nature,  which upon application will result in wise policy rather than mischief or  absurdity.'. 'the right to exclude persons is a fundamental aspect of private  property ownership.' [Citation.]") ( Id. at p. 1254, 121 Cal.Rptr.2d 810.) Here, the easement was an interest  in the land, apparently owned by a public entity, and  entitled to be enjoyed by the public. Tapia, or his father, did not have  exclusive rights over the sidewalk, nor was it protected from public  appropriation.")

11 See same at 1163. ("The purpose of  the law, as articulated by its author, Assemblywoman Doris Allen, was to foster  school safety and decrease violence on school campuses. (Assem. Com. on Public  Safety, Rep. on Assem. Bill No. 645 (1993-1994 Reg. Sess.) Jan. 11, 1994, p. 2; Sen. Com. on  Judiciary, Background Information Form on Assem. Bill No. 645 (1993-1994 Reg. Sess.);  Assemblywoman Allen, letter to Governor Wilson, Sept. 8, 1994 [stating that Assembly Bill No.  645 would make schools safer].) On the other hand, a letter from Assemblywoman  Allen to Governor Wilson, urging him to sign the legislation, indicates the  bill's author was "very conscientious about protecting the rights of  gun-owners." (Assemblywoman Allen, letter to Governor Wilson, Sept. 8, 1994, supra.)  To that end, the author stated the bill included "several provisions" to ensure  "law abiding citizens would not be unjustly penalized under the bill." ( Ibid.)")

12 Penal Code 626.9 PC, California's  Gun-Free School Zone Act. ("(c) Subdivision (b) does  not apply to the possession of a firearm under any of the following  circumstances.(2)  When the firearm is an unloaded pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of  being concealed on the person and is in a locked container or within the locked  trunk of a motor vehicle. This section  does not prohibit or limit the otherwise lawful transportation of any other  firearm, other than a pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being  concealed on the person, in accordance with state law.")

13 See same. ("(c) Subdivision (b) does  not apply to the possession of a firearm under any of the following  circumstances. (3) When the person possessing the firearm reasonably believes  that he or she is in grave danger because of circumstances forming the basis of  a current restraining order issued by a court against another person or persons  who has or have been found to pose a threat to his or her life or safety. This  subdivision may not apply when the circumstances involve a mutual restraining  order issued pursuant to Division 10 (commencing with Section 6200) of the Family Code  absent a factual finding of a specific threat to the person's life or safety. Upon a trial for violating subdivision (b), the  trier of a fact shall determine whether the defendant was acting out of a  reasonable belief that he or she was in grave danger.")

See  also California's  self-defense laws. ("Judicial Council Of  California  Criminal Jury Instruction 505 -- Justifiable Homicide: Self-Defense or Defense  of Another. ("The defendant acted in lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense of  another) if: [1] The defendant reasonably believed that (he/she/ [or] someone  else/ [or] <insert name or description of third party<) was in  imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury [or was in  imminent danger of being (raped/maimed/robbed/ <insert other forcible and  atrocious crime<)]; [2] The defendant reasonably believed that the  immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger; AND [3] The defendant used no more force than was  reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.")

And Judicial Council Of California Criminal Jury Instruction 3470 --  Right to Self-Defense or Defense of Another (Non-Homicide). ("The  defendant acted in lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense of another) if: [1] The  defendant reasonably believed that (he/she/ [or] someone else/ [or] <insert  name of third party<) was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury  [or was in imminent danger of being touched unlawfully]; [2] The defendant  reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend  against that danger; AND [3] The  defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against  that danger.")

14 Penal Code 626.9 PC, California's  Gun-Free School Zone Act. ("(c) Subdivision (b) does  not apply to the possession of a firearm under any of the following  circumstances. (4) When the person is exempt from the  prohibition against carrying a concealed firearm pursuant to subdivision (b), (d), (e), or (h) of  Section 12027.")

15 Penal Code 626.9(c)(4) above  specifically excludes persons under Penal Code 12027 subdivisions b,d,e, and h  from prosecution under this law. Penal  Code 12027(j) deals with persons who hold CCW permits. Because subdivision "j" isn't specifically  listed as an exception under Penal Code 626.9, those who carry concealed  weapons in a school zone.even with a valid permit.still violate the Gun-Free  School Zone Act.

16 See same. ("(l) This section does not apply to a duly appointed peace officer  as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section  830) of Title 3 of Part 2, a full-time paid peace officer of another state or  the federal government who is carrying out official duties while in California,  any person summoned by any of these officers to assist in making arrests or  preserving the peace while he or she is actually engaged in assisting the  officer, a member of the military forces of this state or of the United States  who is engaged in the performance of his or her duties, a person holding a  valid license to carry the firearm pursuant to Article 3 (commencing with  Section 26150 and 26155) of Chapter 1 of Title 2 of Part 4, or an armored vehicle guard,  engaged in the performance of his or her duties, as defined in subdivision (e)  of Section 7521 of the Business and Professions Code.(o) This section does not  apply to an honorably retired peace officer authorized to carry a concealed or  loaded firearm pursuant to subdivision (a) or (i) of Section 12027 or paragraph  (1) or (8) of subdivision (b) of Section 25850.")

17 See same. ("(m) This section does not apply to a security guard authorized to  carry a loaded firearm pursuant to  Section 25850.")

18 San    Bernardino  criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi defends  clients throughout the Inland Empire,  including Banning, Barstow,  Rancho Cucamonga, Hemet, Riverside,  and San Bernardino   County.

19 Penal Code 626.9 PC, California's  Gun-Free School Zone Act. ("(3) Any person who violates subdivision (d) [that is, discharging  or attempting to discharge a firearm in a school zone] shall be punished by imprisonment  in the state prison for three, five, or seven years.")

20 See same. ("(h) Notwithstanding Section 12026, any person who brings  or possesses a loaded firearm upon the grounds of a campus of, or buildings owned or operated for student housing, teaching, research,  or administration by, a public or private university or college, that are  contiguous or are clearly marked university property, unless it is with the  written permission of the university or college president, his or her designee,  or equivalent university or college authority, shall be punished by  imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years. Notwithstanding  subdivision (k), a university or college shall post a prominent notice at  primary entrances on noncontiguous property stating that firearms are  prohibited on that property pursuant to this subdivision. (i) Notwithstanding  Section 12026, any person who brings or possesses a  firearm upon the grounds of a campus of, or buildings owned or operated for  student housing, teaching, research, or administration by, a public or private  university or college, that are contiguous or are clearly marked university  property, unless it is with the written permission of the university or college  president, his or her designee, or equivalent university or college authority,  shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for one, two, or three  years. Notwithstanding subdivision (k), a university or college shall post a  prominent notice at primary entrances on noncontiguous property stating that  firearms are prohibited on that property pursuant to this subdivision.")

21 See same. ("(2) Any person who  violates subdivision (b) by possessing a firearm within a distance of 1,000  feet from the grounds of a public or private school providing instruction in  kindergarten or grades 1 to 12, inclusive, shall be punished as follows: (A)  By imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or five years, if any of  the following circumstances apply: (i)  If the person previously has been convicted of any felony, or of any crime made  punishable by Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 12000) of Title 2 of Part 4. (ii)  If the person is within a class of persons prohibited from possessing or  acquiring a firearm pursuant to Section 29800 or 12021.1 of this code or  Section 8100 or 8103 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. (iii)  If the firearm is any pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being  concealed upon the person and the offense is punished as a felony pursuant to  Section 25400.")

22 Penal Code 626.9  PC, California's  Gun-Free School Zone Act. ("("(2) Any person who violates subdivision (b) by  possessing a firearm within a distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of a  public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or grades 1 to  12, inclusive, shall be punished as follows.(B) By imprisonment in a county  jail for not more than one year or by imprisonment in the state prison for two,  three, or five years, in all cases other than those specified in subparagraph  (A) [specified above in endnote 21].")

23 8 U.S. Code Section 1227 -- Deportable aliens. ("(a) Classes of deportable aliens. Any alien (including an alien crewman) in and admitted to the United States shall, upon the order of the Attorney General, be removed if the alien is within one or more of the following classes of deportable aliens.(2) Criminal offenses.(C) Certain firearm offenses -- Any alien who at any time after admission is convicted under any law of purchasing, selling, offering for sale, exchanging, using, owning, possessing, or carrying, or of attempting or conspiring to purchase, sell, offer for sale, exchange, use, own, possess, or carry, any weapon, part, or accessory which is a firearm or destructive device (as defined in section 921(a) of title 18) in violation of any law is deportable.") Violating California's Gun-Free School Zone Act is therefore a California crime that can lead to deportation.

24 Please feel free to contact our Nevada criminal defense  attorneys Michael Becker and Mike Castillo for any questions relating to Nevada's firearm laws.  Their Nevada  law offices are located in Reno  and Las Vegas.

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