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By Lee Williams

Now that 25 states have passed constitutional carry laws, there are millions of law-abiding Americans who have chosen to exercise their Second Amendment rights by carrying a defensive firearm either openly or concealed, without a permission slip from the government.

Unfortunately, federal law has not kept up with the national constitutional-carry movement, especially the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. The Act prohibits possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school – of school property. Motorists who drive by a school likely fall well within this 1,000-foot gun-free zone.

The GFSZA does not recognize constitutional carry or any other form of permitless carry. There is one exception: gun owners who possess a valid concealed-carry permit or license issued by their state are exempt from the law. To be clear, constitutional carriers are not.

To comply with the GFSZA, permitless carriers are supposed to stop before they enter the gun-free zone, unload their firearm and secure it in a locked container or rack within their vehicle. If they do not comply and are caught, the GFSZA is punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to five years in a federal prison.

In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the GFSZA was unconstitutional because Congress had “exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause.”

President Bill Clinton turned to his Attorney General, Janet Reno, for a fix. Reno produced an amendment that required the government to prove that the firearm has ‘‘moved in or the possession of such firearm otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce.’’

“The Attorney General reported to me that this proposal would have little, if any, impact on the ability of prosecutors to charge this offense, for the vast majority of firearms have ‘moved in commerce’ before reaching their eventual possessor,” Clinton wrote in a letter to Congress.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of the amended law.

A case study

At 2:18 a.m. on December 20, 2020, a Beloit,Wisconsin police officer stopped a silver SUV for a traffic offense.

“The traffic stop occurred less than 1,000 feet from a school,” an ATF press release states.

The vehicle was driven by David Barber, 38, of Beloit. Barber handed the officer a state-issued ID card. He did not have a valid driver’s license. Barber was a prohibited person. At the time of the traffic stop, he was on federal probation after being released from prison for heroin trafficking.

According to the press release, “The officer noticed a large revolver and open alcohol in the center console and ordered Barber to step out of the vehicle. Barber then drove off fleeing the scene.”

The ATF said officers went to the address on Barber’s ID and found him inside his brother’s apartment. They located a Weihrauch .45 Colt single-action revolver inside a medicine cabinet. Barber’s DNA was found on the trigger of the gun.

The ATF press release didn’t mention how officers gained entry to the locked apartment building after they arrived, or that they never bothered to get a search warrant before searching Barber’s brother’s apartment.

“While tenants have keys to the two common entrances, everyone else generally needs to be ‘buzzed in’ by a resident using the electronic door release button inside each apartment. In this case, police used a pocketknife to force open a common entrance door,” Barber’s defense attorney wrote in a motion to suppress evidence, in this case the revolver.

While a judge overruled Barber’s motion to suppress, an attorney familiar with the case said the evidentiary issues forced prosecutors to offer Barber a plea deal. They charged him with violation of the Gun-Free School Zone Act, rather than the more serious Felon in Possession of a Firearm statute.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey Stephan, who prosecuted the case, would not discuss his reasons for negotiating a plea and offering Barber the lesser charge.

“I represent the government in this particular case,” Stephan said. “There may in fact be an appeal in this case.”

Neither Stephan nor his boss, United States Attorney Timothy M. O’Shea, could say how many other GFSZA cases Beloit police have referred to the ATF or the U.S. Attorney’s Office that resulted from traffic stops that were made within 1,000-feet of a school.

Barber pleaded guilty to the lesser charge on October 12, 2022.

Last week, U.S. District Judge William M. Conley sentenced him to 42 months in federal prison for possessing a firearm in a school zone.

Barber’s case was investigated by Beloit Police and the ATF as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, which the ATF describes as “a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.”

Attempt to repeal

Last year, Congressman Thomas Massie, (R-KY), introduced legislation to repeal the Gun-Free School Zone Act by re-introducing his “Safe Students Act,” which would have made it easier for state and local governments – including school boards – to establish their own firearm policies.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“Gun-free zones are ineffective and make our schools less safe. Since 1950, 98 percent of mass public shootings have occurred in places where citizens are banned from having guns,” Rep. Massie said at the time. “Banks, churches, sports stadiums, and many of my colleagues in Congress are protected with firearms. Yet children inside the classroom are too frequently left vulnerable.”

Massie’s legislation, which was originally introduced by Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) in 2007, was strongly supported by pro-gun groups.

John Kennedy, Massie’s communications director, said the Congressman plans to reintroduce the legislation during the 118th Congress.


The Gun-Free School Zone Act raises serious safety and constitutional issues.

First and foremost, as Congressman Massie pointed out, gun-free zones kill. They’re magnets for mayhem. They place our children in extreme peril while disarming those who would defend them. This alone is reason enough to repeal the Act.

Legally, the GFSZA is a trap. The Act is waiting silently for any unsuspecting gun owner to drive by a school. It’s unreasonable to assume these law-abiding folks are even aware they’re violating the law. And, most certainly, the penalty does not fit the “crime.”

In addition to infringing on the Second Amendment, the GFSZA also raises Fifth Amendment concerns, especially in states that require a concealed-carrier to announce to law enforcement that they are armed when stopped, or to admit they’re carrying a concealed weapon if asked by police.

Finally, the Act is ripe for abuse. I would hope that the ATF isn’t advising its Project Safe Neighborhood partners to focus their traffic stops within 1,000 feet of a school, so federal charges can be brought if a firearm is found. But the ATF has shown it doesn’t care if its actions criminalize the law abiding.

Right now, millions of Americans have to decide whether they should risk becoming felons or comply with ATF’s unconstitutional rule making, after purchasing firearm accessories the ATF once said were perfectly legal. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if ATF is providing guidance on other ways to circumvent the United States Constitution.


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This story is part of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project and is published here with their permission.

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  1. I remember well when I first strted getting interested n handguns and carrying them. I checked my local maps and realised there is NO ROUTE between my home and any onramp of the Interstate freeway that did not have me pass within the thousand foot distance from any school property. Thus, unless I got my Mother May I Card I coud not bring my gun anywhere needing ccess to the Interstate.

    I am not certain now but I DO seem to recall that there are other exceptions besides the Mother May I Card but I cannot recall them.
    Today I realise this restiction is a SERIOUS denial of my right to arms. On what basis does MY right to arms vapourise by the mere fact that I, a law abiding citizen happen to travel within some arbitrarily prescribed distance of a school, even it it is closed as t night. Suppose I were walking within that Circle of Death and, because of this arbitrarily established circle, was mandated to be disarmed… and was thus attacked with no means to protect myself?
    This law DOES need to go away. No question the new perspective opened by Bruen would render it a dead goose the first time anyone mointed a challenge n a Second Article of Ammendment basis. Add the clear fact that every mass shooting in or near any school occurred in a Certified Defenseless Victim Zone established by the GFSZA

    • I live within 1000′ of a school (658′, to be exact). I have asked law enforcement if, every time I load up the ole Jeep to head to the range, “Am I in violation of the GFSZA when I cross the sidewalk in front of my property carrying a gun in a soft case?” The reply, “Probably, you might want to replace all your gun cases with locking ones.”

      Anyone know if the government is willing to subsidize a couple dozen Pelican cases? Seems like they should.

      • Just move. That’s what I’m told when I mention I live in CA.

        Our human and civil rights are not dependent on our address.

        • I hear the same in ILLANNOY. OR why I have precious little sympathy for all the short rifle folks & their braces.. I live within 1000 feet from a grade school. My son’s went to school there. If you live in any city you likely run afoul of Bush’s boondoggle. Have fun flying that “back the blue” flag🙄

        • Yeah, right, just move – I’ve heard that before too. Never-mind the fact that I’ve lived in that location for 20+ years and, oh btw, built the house my family lives in. Instead of moving I think I’ll keep trying to make the laws in my neighborhood suck less.

      • I grew up in a tough NYC neighborhood. If you showed up at school without a gun, they would lend one to you.

      • lol fuck that. I’m not paying for that shit in taxes. I will however pay for them to change the stupid laws they create.

      • MyName….cheaper by far to pay for those $200-250 Pelicans yourself. Having government pay for them will cost taxpayers $1000-1500 per case. To get a dollar from the government, someone has to send $5+ to government to cover their skim, scam, squander, launder ‘n’ pocket, buy votes of the free-shit addicted useful idiot Government Plantation Dwellers…..and that $1 ALWAYS comes with controls built in. Just a long lifetime of observation.

  2. wow, that is a huge self-created drama reach even for TTAG.
    Offering plead down to GFSZA in order to cover up warrantless search and breaking & entering by police does not correlate to the headline. Felon was committing felonies unrelated to GFSZA, it just happened he was stopped near a school. If he had not been a felon in possession, if the cops had not violated law, then there would have been zero charges related to GFSZA and legal permitless carry while driving.

    • He was near the school at 2am. What classes or events were ongoing at that time?

      The cops made a bad arrest. He should not have had to accept a deal. All charges should have been dropped and the cops given remedial training or discipline.

    • Don’t sleep on the 30 year old law just because it doesn’t get much action. All the GFSZA court cases I can think of involve despicable characters, but those folks at the margins are usually where these constitutional questions are answered. May it stay that way.

    • You seem to be missing the real point. Government disarms law abiding citizens for little or no reason – but law breakers never obey the law. Gun free zones need to die a horrible death.

  3. But it was a Peacemaker, not a weapon of war.

    God made some men short and some men tall, Sam Colt made them equal, GFSZA made them felons.

    • mountocean
      “But it was a Peacemaker, not a weapon of war.”
      For what it’s worth, I beg to differ with that. The Colt Peacemaker is also known as the Colt Single Action ARMY.

  4. Not a glitch, but rather a feature of the law. Ten football fields of distance is a pretty significant hurdle to overcome. The patricians DON’T want the plebes to be armed, so they create onerous laws with hefty PRISON sentences that are extremely punitive vis-a-vis the calibrated offenses. This law, in particular, needs to be struck down as unconstitutional, the fact that it has been in the U.S. Code for over 30 years is an absolute abomination.

    • HEGEMON:
      I agree with you on this. While I’m thinking about it, I would like to also put in a word for the repeal of the federal law prohibiting the carrying of a firearm on post office property with its $250,000 fine and (I can’t remember how many) years in prison. If I recall correctly that one was kneejerk legislation enacted after some disgruntled postal employee shot up a bunch of other postal employees over some grievance or other.

  5. It’s backdoor Gun Control that should have been flushed permanently. Too bad rapists like bill clintoon are free to pass through as many school zones as they want.

  6. True. People who say things like “I support the 2nd Amendment, but” and “my family has a strong tradition of hunting” – will fight like hell to keep it on the books, tho. And it is purely a law of harassment…

    No practical purpose whatsoever.


    • That’s because you are in Texas. Try that in California and you might think otherwise. It is neither easy nor cheap to get a CCW here, and it has to be renewed–with a class–every two years.

    • n tex
      no thanks
      my license to carry is and always has been the 2A. I refuse to pay or ask permission to exercise my rights. I’ve taken ccw classes and have other training but never had a mother may I card and I won’t.

  8. Our state says, collectively by a series of laws and opinions issued by the state attorney general, for law abiding (and not prohibited persons) its legal; for a person with or without a permit to ‘transit’ a school zone with their firearm loaded and on their person or in the car, plus, if concealed they can enter school grounds for child pick up or drop off but not a school building or event without a permit, but can enter a school building and events with a permit. If you are school staff (work at the school) you can carry concealed with or without a permit during school hours or school event anywhere on school grounds. Our school staff here are armed (personal choice to go armed or not, no one is forcing them), and we also have school resource officers. Retired law enforcement as designated under the LEOSA can carry concealed anywhere on school grounds, and if serving in a ‘security capacity’ during school hours or events can carry open. Been that way for years, no accidents and no rivers of blood, no kids have grabbed any teachers gun, never been a problem, but its stopped some incidents from even beginning and even caught a few wanted fugitives.

    The federal law allows states to preempt with caveats.

    • Your state law might be whatever the state law is, but the federal GFSZA makes no provision for retired officers under the federal LEOSA, not even off-duty officers. The only caveat GFSZA offers the state is a concealed carry permit.

      • well, that’s not actually for here ….

        Its true that the federal GFSZA makes no provision for retired officers under the federal LEOSA. But, a state can allow them to carry on state property and our schools are state property (except for private institutions, in which case they can decide or not as private property owners). The federal GFSZA does not prohibit carry on state property and can’t as a state may do with their property as they see fit. Its a loop hole, grey area, but still a loop hole.

        Its true that the only caveat GFSZA offers the state is a concealed carry permit. But, a state can allow carry on state property and our schools are state property (except for private institutions). The federal GFSZA does not prohibit carry on state property and can’t as a state may do with their property as they see fit. Its a loop hole, grey area, but still a loop hole.

        Off duty law enforcement can carry on school grounds here too, they are never really off duty in a law enforcement sense, just in a work sense.

        The federal law allows states to preempt with caveats, because it can’t stop them from doing so actually for state property.

        • To add… in regards to a ‘permit’ (‘license’);

          Another area my state uses is actually allowed, in effect and letter, by the GFSZA, this ambiguous part…

          “if the individual possessing the firearm is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located…”

          Basically, it doesn’t prohibit non-‘physically issued permitted’ ‘constitutional’ carry, and the GFSZA never defines that a ‘permit’ (‘license’) has to be a physically issued permit, and there is no such thing as a license to posses in our state. It makes the allowance for a ‘license’ but defines that license in its context as ‘possessing’ but doesn’t prohibit ‘permitted’ under constitutional carry which is basically in our law a ‘license’ to carry without being issued a physical permit.

          In our state those law abiding who carry under constitutional carry have actually been, in effect, ‘issued’ a permit to carry by the letter of the law, just not a physical permit – in our state ‘constitutional carry’ without a physical issued permit is synonymous with carry with a physical issued permit – the only difference is a few more places an ordinary citizen person can carry with a physical issued permit. Thus all law abiding people who carry without a physically issued permit (e.g. ‘constitutional carry’) in our state still have a ‘permit’ to carry ‘issued’ by the letter of the law. And of course there are some ins-n-outs to it all, but the end effect is in some of what I posted above.

    • California used to allow concealed carry with a permit on school grounds. Then it was carry only with the permission of the superintendent (which the Legislature assumed would never be granted). When a couple of superintendents granted permission, the State banned CCW concealed carry on all campuses. Now the only exclusion from the STATE (yes, California has its own version)GFSZA is with a permit and in the 1000′ exclusion zone, although the most recently proposed CCW bill confuses the whole mess.

  9. Too bad they don’t have a vote. They don’t exist…We have a Sanctuary State that regulates our guns not the Fed They can shive it. Not enforceable. Our cops would’t say shit….The desperate Fed doesn’t have any Authority under the Constitution we go by….totally a fake Administration. They’re all going down in flames. All be over with soon.

  10. From the GFSZA, the exception: “if the individual possessing the firearm is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located…”

    However, some states, such as Virginia, do not issue a license to possess. Virginia’s Concealed Handgun Permit is not a license to do anything. It provides an exception to the law which generally prohibits the carry of a handgun in a manner “hidden from common observation.”

    There is a lot of debate among Virginia 2A folks whether this “counts,” but if you read the law as it is written in English, it does not, because there is no such thing as a “license to possess” in Virginia.

    The important question for the GFSZA is how many cases have been charged and prosecuted where this ONE LAW was the ONLY violation? That’s the kicker. The Feds know it’s a heinous law, and one that would certainly not hold up under Bruen. So it will never be used in a case that would be likely to be appealed, leaving it a “cocked hammer” for the law-abiding, unconstitutionally influencing the behavior of those who will not break laws in general, even though the law itself is certainly unconstitutional.

  11. Breun CLEARLY covers this Klinton BS.

    “I would hope that the ATF isn’t advising” – and I hope that the bunny huggers don’t actually believe that unicorn farts will provide power to charge their silly battery cars.

  12. I could throw a rock from my house and break a window in an elementary school. Two days ago I had an unexpected knock on my door. If you know me, you call ahead. Except for Jehovah’s Witnesses. They take their chances. If anyone wanted to arrest me for that particular violation, they missed their opportunity. I opened the door as I always do for an unexpected visitor. With a SIG P-220 .45 ACP in hand. It was the Chief of Police, the Assistant Chief of Police and the Mayor. Oops! Except for the Mayor we all knew each other (she’s new) so all was well. Maybe, not the Mayor. She looked like she might faint for a second there. Anyway, one more example of why these laws are just plain stupid. Oh! They were going door to door to announce a new feel good program for citizens. As they left the chief said, “If you have any problems give us a call”. I said, “Chief, if I call you, you better send someone with a mop and bucket. Because there’s going to be a mess”. Everyone except the Mayor laughed. I think she was a democrat.

  13. I remember when I first started carrying and learning about this. I treat it like I would in any anti-gun state: I’d rather be alive to stand trial than dead. That said, tyrants do tyrant shit. Can’t exactly fight back and defend yourself against them without getting the whole gang after you, now can you? Seen it more times than I can count. Tyrants not leaving property or doubling down on their enforcement because they feel the need to showcase their small peen energy. Not worth it to shoot them because we all know where that will lead. Laws are not on your side. Police are not on your side. Never forget it.

  14. Without having to read all the applicable law language and making my eyes glaze over there is one thing I haven’t seen mentioned….yet. In my state your vehicle is an extension of your home. So, if I’m in my motorized “home” driving through a school zone in my neighborhood (or anywhere else for that matter) should I consider it ok to have a firearm in my car just like in my house?

  15. Well in my small town the main side road goes by a school..

    It isn’t unusual to see trucks parked in the parking lot with guns in their gun racks, while the parents wait for their kids..

    Police just drive by and even follow trucks with guns in racks driving by the school!!!

    • Yep, read the law.

      “does not apply to the possession of a firearm— (iii) that is— (I) not loaded; and (II) in a locked container, or a locked firearms rack that is on a motor vehicle;”

    • “Police just drive by …”

      And perhaps even more importantly, local law enforcement hardly ever involve themselves with Federal law, especially this one.

  16. Apparently the woke leftism hasn’t reached where you are. Nice. It hasn’t been like that here in decades.

  17. My grandkids school has city cops as resource officers. I know most of them and had to pick up 1 of the kids for a Dr.s appointment last week. Walked up to the door, was buzzed in and stood talking to the cop while waiting for the kid to get to the office. Had my 1911 on my belt the whole time. No one asked if I had a permit, nor seemed to really notice or react to the sidearm. Of course, I likely don’t fit the profile of school shooter being an older slightly over weight bald, bearded white man. Seems most of the school shooters are angry young men who should have been either locked up for other crimes, or in a mental hospital for treatment of major issues.

  18. The interstate or intrastate commerce clause or law will nullify a conviction of a person driving by a school with a firearm or firearms.

  19. In the article it seems that the officer had probable cause to pull the gentleman over for a traffic violation. After contact, the officer noted the driver had a revolver and had ascertained that the driver did not have a driver’s license. By the driver providing enough evidence against himself, probably due to mental incapacitation from drugs, the officer did the proper thing and arrested the driver. The prosecutor of that municipality served by the officer started piling on the charges and notified the Federal Authorities to the violation of the Federal Gun Free Zone Act, as only the the Federal Government can prosecute for that issue. The article never tells us of how the errant driver faired with the local unlawful acts. Bottom line is the The Federal Gun Free Zone act can only be adjudicated in Federal Court. Schools are not Federal property and the Federal Government has zero jurisdiction unless the locals tell them. I am not aware of any Federal officers that are enforcement officers that are pulling citizens over for traffic infractions unless they are using it as a ploy to open up the possibility of having Federal laws also brought into the matter. Keep yourself within the traffic laws and the chance of you being pulled over by the local law enforcement personal goes to near zero, the exception being for a broken or non-operating light or some other mechanical issue.

  20. Here is a good one. In Twin Falls, Idaho they are building a NEW Charter School about 300 feet from an existing Shotgun Trap shooting club range. The range has been there for over 25 years. When built it was out in the country now it’s in the city limits!

  21. Here’s another side effect of the GFSZ law. I know of a number of officers in various jurisdictions who, when making a routine a routine stop near a school zone, will try to make the stop within that zone so that if any weapon is found they will have a slam dunk weapons charge regardless of any other factors in the stop. Illegal? No. Unethical? You be the judge.

  22. A Bull Scheiße Law that hasn’t prevented a single school shooting.
    Not only does it need repealed, it should be taken out, buried and the ground salted.

  23. We are definitely a nation of freeking IDIOTS..we have some of the stupidest dang confounding laws with absolutely NO reason or logic…Stupid is as stupid does !!!

  24. This is a Big stretch. Lets see. A convicted felon with a gun, and open container of alcohol, in plain sight during a traffic stop and then fleeing said stop. He pleaded to a lesser charge of having a firearm in a school zone. Now you are going to equate that with a law abiding citizen, that happens to drive by a school while constitutional carry?
    Keep this up and I’ll have to rethink my opinion of TTAG.

  25. I’m really confused. A basic principle of English common law is Mens Rae, meaning “guilty mind” or intent. For most laws, ignorance of the isn’t an excuse (I didn’t know A was illegal), but not knowing that you’re doing the thing prohibited by the law is an excuse (I didn’t know I was doing A.)

    There are no signs posted at the 1000 ft radius from schools, so how is anyone supposed to know they’re in violation of this law. (If there’s a sign saying “School zone” or “School ahead” then OK, but what if you’re a block over on a different street with no signs?) And, no one can reasonably know they’re in violation of this law, how can anyone be charged for violating it? The only way to avoid breaking such a vague law would be to not carry a gun at law, a clear 2A violation.

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