Weapons and Schools
School safety and security is increased by limiting the availability of weapons and potential weapons on school grounds. Both state and federal law regulate the possession of firearms and other dangerous weapons at school and near schools.
State and federal law require each public school district and each approved private school to report to OSPI all known incidents involving the possession of weapons on school premises, transportation systems, or in areas of facilities while being used exclusively by public or private schools. In addition, public school districts are required by Title IV (Safe and Drug-Free Schools) and by Title X (Unsafe School Choice Option) of the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to report the number of suspensions and expulsions for specific types of student behaviors.
An incident results in the removal of one or more students from their regular school setting for at least an entire school day. A single incident may result in the suspension or expulsion of more than one student. An incident that does not remove a student for the entire school day is outside the scope of this report. However, an incident in which a student possessed or brought a firearm to school should be counted even if the expulsion was modified or no penalty was imposed.
Knife includes incidents where a student possessed a knife or dagger on school grounds, whether or not the item was used as a weapon or intended as a weapon.
Handgun includes all incidents when a student is known to have possessed a handgun on school grounds or school transportation, whether or not the handgun was intended to be used as a weapon.
Rifle/Shotgun includes all incidents when a student is known to have possessed a rifle or shotgun on school grounds or school transportation, whether or not the firearm was intended to be used as a weapon.
Other firearm includes incidents in which one or more students possessed or brought another type of firearm not named above, including zip guns, starter guns, and flare guns to school. As defined by the Gun-Free Schools Act, other firearms include:
- any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of any explosive;
- the frame or receiver of any weapon described above;
- any firearm muffler or firearm silencer;
- any destructive device, which includes:
- any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas (such as bomb, grenade, rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces, missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one quarter ounce, mine, or similar device
- any weapon which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter.
- any combination or parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into any destructive device described in the two immediately preceding examples, and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled.
Other weapon includes incidents in which one or more students possessed or brought anything used as a weapon that is not classified as a handgun, rifle/shotgun, knife/dagger, or other firearm to schools. Examples include chains, pipes, razor blades or similar instruments with sharp cutting edges; ice picks, pointed instruments (pencils, pens); nun-cha-ka sticks; brass knuckles; stars; billy clubs; tear gas guns; electrical weapons (stun guns); BB or pellet guns; and explosives or propellants.
Sample Dangerous Weapons Policy Language
For monitoring purposes, districts are required to provide one copy of their gun-free policy with required language. See the attached sample policy wording for Regulation of Dangerous Weapons on School Premises.
Firearms on School Grounds
- RCW 28A.600.420 pertaining to firearms on school grounds follows the federal GFSA but also requires the expulsion of a student found in possession of a firearm anywhere on school grounds, on school transportation, or at school-sponsored events. This does not apply to students who possess firearms under the authority of a school district, such as for a demonstration, rifle competition, or firearms safety course. Superintendents may modify firearm expulsions on a case-by-case basis.
- RCW 9.41.280 makes possession of firearms and other dangerous weapons on school grounds a gross misdemeanor with certain exceptions. Prohibited dangerous weapons include items such as butterfly knives, switchblade knives, daggers, martial arts weapons including nunchuks and throwing stars, metal knuckles, air guns, and stun guns or Taser devices. Possession of these items under state law is generally grounds for expulsion.
- There have been a number of recent cases where students have faced serious disciplinary action for possessing airsoft and other look-alike weapons on campus. In many cases, these simulated weapons may meet the definition of a dangerous weapon because they expel a projectile. Students may also face discipline under the provisions of RCW 28A.600.420 if they act with malice and display an item that appears to be a firearm, even if the item is not in fact dangerous.
- Exemptions to state and federal prohibitions on possession of firearms are made for persons who are licensed by the state to carry a concealed pistol. The GFSZA provides an allowance for licensed persons to possess firearms within 1000 feet of a school, and state law allows those licensed to carry a concealed pistol to possess a firearm on school grounds while picking up or dropping off a student. Revised Codes of Washington (RCW) 28A.600.420 and 9.41.280 prohibits loaded firearms inside school facilities except for security and law enforcement.
- Except as provided under RCW 9.41.280, state law does not prohibit the possession of common pocket knives or other sharp tools on school grounds. However, school policies and rules do typically prohibit students from possessing knives on school grounds or at school events. Local ordinances may also prohibit minors from possessing knives - either on or off of school grounds.
Protective Spray Devices
- Under RCW 9.91.160, students aged 14 years and older may legally possess personal protection spray devices (such as mace and pepper spray) if that student has parent permission. Schools or other units of government may not prohibit the possession of personal protection spray devices if the student is at least 14 years of age with parent permission, or of any person age 18 or older.