Guns now allowed in school parking lots 

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By Seth Morin

Advocates of a law that goes into effect July 1 say it will keep people who carry guns in their cars from unknowingly breaking the law when they drive onto school property.

But some education officials aren't sure the new law is a good idea.

"It sends an entirely mixed message to society," said John Schilawski, assistant superintendent of Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation.

Senate Bill 229 - passed earlier this year - allows individuals to have guns on school property if they are hidden in a locked vehicle. If a gun is found in plain sight, the individual will be charged with a misdemeanor.

Current law allows police to charge someone with a felony if they carry a gun onto school property. The change will only exempt a parked car. Individuals will still be banned from carrying guns into schools.

Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, said that right now a person can legally go to a school with a firearm in their car and pick someone up. However, it becomes illegal if the person parks and goes in. He said he sees no difference between the two situations and backed the change.

Tomes said the focus of state laws should be to limit actual criminals, not legitimate citizens. And he said the current law makes some average citizens look like criminals when they actually have done nothing wrong.

"We have relieved our citizens from being categorized as criminals," he said.

The new law allows students to possess firearms on school property if they are members of shooting sports teams.

Also, the legislation fixes what some lawmakers say was a problem in current law, which created roaming school zones where guns were also banned. That could be a zoo where students go for a field trip or a restaurant where a team stops to eat.

Under the change, firearms will be allowed at those locations even when students are present.

The bill was controversial. And Tomes said gun legislation is always emotional. He said that when emotion confronts logic, reason will always trump.

Tomes said since the law passed last spring, he hasn't heard any complaints from constituents, schools or organizations.

But Schilawski said he believes it is inappropriate to allow the right to bare arms in some places - with a school being one of them.

Schilawski said it brings up the question: "Do we value our gun rights more or the children's safety?" He believes that most firearm owners are responsible and would not do anything to harm others.

Still, he said that the law threatens school security by putting accessible firearms closer to the door.

"It jeopardizes the environment we are required to allow students to be educated in," Schilawski said.

Seth Morin is a reporter from TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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