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The Legality Of Carrying Within 1000 Feet Of A School Zone


Part 1 of this article will deal with the federal law and part 2 will cover our recommendations to answer the following question:

“What should I do if I’m driving through a gun free zone?”

Part 1 — The Law

The federal law governing the “gun free” zone around schools has caused much confusion in the gun community.  Because it’s federal law and not state law governing this definition, we’re going to have to use it.

School Zone — The area of 1,000 feet around a public, parochial or private school.

18 U.S. Code § 921 – Definitions (a)(25)

This includes roadways, highways, and any ground not considered private property.  We’ll get into the exceptions.

A school is defined as any state-defined location providing elementary and secondary education.  This covers the arena, in most states, of grades K through 12.  Some states will include pre-school and daycare in this caveat.

18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2)(A)

It shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm that has moved in or that otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.

(3)(A) covers the discharge of a firearm inside a school zone.  Basically, it’s illegal to knowingly or unknowingly discharge a firearm within a school zone unless it falls under the exceptions list.

Exceptions To Possessing A Firearm In A School Zone

When looking into the big exceptions for possession a firearm within a school zone, we see the following in 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2)(A)

(i) on private property not part of school grounds;

This could be interpreted that if you’re on your own private property and you have a firearm in your possession, you are legally allowed to possess that firearm.  It has been argued and extended in some cases that if you are in possession of a firearm on someone else’s private property and you are the guest of that person or entity, you’re also good.

(ii) if the individual possessing the firearm is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located or a political subdivision of the State, and the law of the State or political subdivision requires that, before an individual obtains such a license, the law enforcement authorities of the State or political subdivision verify that the individual is qualified under law to receive the license;

If you live in a state that allows you to carry onto school premises through either a concealed handgun license or similar, you are allowed to go onto school grounds with that firearm.  Constitutional carry would not regularly apply in this scenario.

(iii) that is—


(I) not loaded; and

(II) in a locked container, or a locked firearms rack that is on a motor vehicle;

If you’re legally allowed to possess a firearm but not legally allowed to carry it onto school grounds, you’re still allowed to have it within your vehicle so long as it is unloaded and in a locked container — much the same as the rules that apply for interstate travel clauses for FOPA.

(iv) by an individual for use in a program approved by a school in the school zone;

(v) by an individual in accordance with a contract entered into between a school in the school zone and the individual or an employer of the individual;

Lumped these next two for obvious reasons.  They all apply to people contracted to work with the schools for sporting events and athletic meets centered around firearms.  Activities such as athletic shooting sports and the like require instructors, coaches, and others to regularly transport firearms onto and off campus.  So long as it is for an approved and sanctioned activity by the school, you should be good to go.  It’s always best to transport in a locked container, unloaded, and maintain a copy of the school administration’s contract for the activities.

(vi) by a law enforcement officer acting in his or her official capacity; or

Obviously, if you’re an active duty police officer or agent of law enforcement, you’re generally allowed to go just about anywhere you want with your firearm.  One of the rare perks about that job.  When it comes to retired or off-duty police not acting in an official capacity, it’s best to acknowledge that you’re not authorized to carry into a school zone unless specifically authorized by the administration or applicable state law.

(vii) that is unloaded and is possessed by an individual while traversing school premises for the purpose of gaining access to public or private lands open to hunting, if the entry on school premises is authorized by school authorities.

For those that frequently hunt, if you’re operating within or through 1,000 feet of a federally-identified school zone, you’re obliged to obtain permission by school authorities first.

So, in conclusion, unless you have a concealed carry handgun license or permit that allows you to possess a firearm on school grounds, make sure it’s locked up and unloaded before you step out of the car.  Else, try to obtain specific permission from school authorities.

Part 2 – “What Should I Do If I’m Driving Through A School Zone?”

As a concealed carrier, you need to know your state’s stance on guns and schools.  If your state allows concealed carry in school zones, you’re fine.  Drive on through.

If your state (or the state you’re driving in) does not allow concealed carry in school zones then the 1,000 foot perimeter is enforced while on the property of the school and while traveling any road provided by taxpayer money.  So if you’re traveling a public road, pull over, unload your firearm and lock it in the glovebox (or similar) until you drive past the radius of 1,000 feet.

After you have passed through the school zone, you may pull over, load your handgun, and put it back in your inside the waistband concealed carry holster.

Exceptions to this include if you are pulling into private property where you have permission from the owner to carry concealed.  Once you are off public roadways and onto private property, a different set of rules apply.

That’s our recommendation based upon our interpretation of federal law.  Consult with an attorney versed in your state’s laws to determine the best possible course of action.

Categories: Beginners Guide, General
About James England | View all posts by James England

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry…

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry handgun is a Glock 36 in a Lenwood Holsters Specter IWB or his CZ-75D PCR in an Alien Gear MOD holster.

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  • Kyle Guthrie


  • Bob O’Hara

    Isn’t your private vehicle also considered private property, at least in other SCOTUS precedent, e.g., fourth amendment search protection? It would seem that as long as you didn’t exit your vehicle, you are on your own private property and protected by (2)(A)(i).

  • Jesse Beaumont

    This law is ridiculously hard to obey. There is practically no way to drive anywhere without crossing the 1000 ft boundary of one school or another.

    • DanInAustin

      It was also overturned by the supreme court once and then minor changes were made by congress(but it should still be unconstitutional.) they should overturn it again.

  • James Groce

    Some additional info. Used to live in Kommiefornia until I retired to Texas.

  • Joseph Tudda

    What? You are exempt if you are licensed by the state to possess the firearm, not licensed to possess it on school grounds. What you wrote is going to confuse more people.

  • HunterRoosevelt

    This is what happens when you expect legal advice from random internet writers. If you want to know how the law affects you, ask a lawyer.

  • Lance Espinosa

    In section ii Exemptions the author confuses possession and concealed carry. The statute clearly talks about possession and a license to possess and infers to a background check to verify that you are eligible to possess. The statute as listed here is silent on concealed carry. These are two very different animals. The author’s take is that you must have special permission via a concealed carry permit that allows concealed carry in a school zone, whereas the actual wording of the statute clearly states that if you are licensed by the state to possess and that license included a check to verify that you are eligible to possess, you are exempt from the 1000 foot limit.
    If I’m reading this incorrectly, please correct me with solid facts.

  • William Gowan

    According Illinois Law You May Drive On ANY Public Highway Passing Through A Gun Free Zone… Just Stay Of The Private Property…Verified By The ISP @ 1(217) 782-7980