Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators
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The Legalities of Firearms on Campus

The laws governing possession of firearms on public school district campuses, grounds, and events are complex. Federal law, state law, and local policy all play important roles in determining when it is permissible to have a firearm on K-12 public school grounds. The role of the individual also plays a part. The information here is intended to apply to regular educators: teachers, administrators, and support staff. Different rules can apply to other individuals, such as school resource officers or school board members. The information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication, but both Congress and the Texas Legislature could make changes to federal and state law, respectively, as recent school violence has increased attention to the issue of firearms in public schools. 

Local Authorization of Firearms

In response to incidents of school violence, some districts have developed local policies allowing staff to carry firearms at school as a part of their job. A motivating factor was the challenges faced by some districts, particularly rural districts, that had no access to immediate support from local law enforcement entities. Federal law allows a school district to authorize staff to possess firearms where they would normally be prohibited, pursuant to a written contract. Texas law allows districts to authorize possession of a firearm at school “pursuant to written regulations or written authorization of the institution.” These exceptions to the usual prohibition on firearms in the school environment led some districts to create local plans, commonly referred to as “guardian plans.” The Texas legislature further authorized school districts to establish policies allowing certain staff to possess firearms at school under a program called a Marshal Plan.

School District Guardian Plans

Both federal and state law allow school districts to authorize an employee to carry a firearm. As such, a district can simply authorize certain individuals to carry a firearm on campus or at school events. If federal restrictions apply, the authorization must be in the form of a written contract. If only state law restrictions apply, only specific written authorization is required.    

Districts have a great deal of flexibility in adopting the requirements for their individual guardian plans.  These requirements include obtaining and maintaining a license to carry (LTC) or concealed handgun license (CHL) and usually require additional training specific to firearms in the school environment.

Federal Law Restricting Firearms

The Gun-Free School Zones Act is a federal law that restricts firearms on school property. First passed by Congress in 1990, the US Supreme Court held this law to be unconstitutional in 1995. In 1997, Congress amended the law to apply only to firearms that have moved through or affected interstate commerce. The amended law remains in force today. The law prohibits possession of a firearm in a school zone unless the firearm:

  • Is possessed by a properly licensed individual.
  • Is unloaded and stored in a locked container or locked firearm rack in a motor vehicle.
  • Is being used as a part of a program approved by the school.
  • Is possessed as authorized by a written contract.
  • Is carried by a law enforcement officer acting in his or her professional capacity.
  • A “school zone” is defined by the law as an area in, around, or within 1,000 feet of a public, parochial, or private school.

Violation of the Act may result in a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment for up to five years.

State Law Restricting Firearms

State law generally requires all citizens to obtain a an LTC (the successor to the CHL) in order to carry a handgun in public. 

State law prohibits an educator from carrying a firearm on school property or at school events in many situations without written authorization from the district. Without specific authorization by the district to possess a firearm, the prohibition on firearms applies:

  • To all individuals, even those who hold an LTC or CHL.
  • To the interior of school buildings and grounds, but not normally to a parking lot, street, or sidewalk.
  • To any grounds or building where a school-sponsored activity is occurring, even if it is not on school property or a place where possession of a firearm would usually be prohibited.
  • To a school bus or any other school passenger transportation vehicle.
  • The law does not require that a school post signs on school property, as is required by most businesses for a firearm to be prohibited. It is also not required that warning signs be posted at a school event or on school transportation vehicles.

It is legal for a properly licensed educator to leave an unloaded firearm locked in their car in the school parking lot, unless the parking lot is being used for a school-sponsored event, such as band practice.

Violation of state law may result in criminal prosecution. Depending on the individual circumstances, possessing a firearm illegally can result in a criminal charge, ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony.

School District Marshal Plans

Texas Education Code 37.0811 authorizes the board of trustees of a school district to appoint a district employee as a school marshal who may carry a handgun at a specific school at specific times as regulated by local written regulations. The regulation also must:

  • Ensure that the employee is eligible for appointment, including completion of 80 hours of training and all other procedural and fitness requirements imposed by Texas Occupations Code §1701.260.
  • Provide that the school marshal may carry a concealed handgun unless the marshal is in regular, direct contact with students. In this case, the handgun must be kept in a locked and secure safe within the marshal’s immediate reach during their primary duty.
  • Allow only the use of frangible duty ammunition.

A marshal may access the firearm only under circumstances that would justify the use of deadly force under the Texas Penal Code.

A school may designate one marshal per 200 students at each campus, and may designate a marshal at each campus where students regularly receive instruction.

The identity of a school marshal is confidential, except as required to obtain appointment and obtain and facilitate licensing requirements.


The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication, March 2019. It is provided for general purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.




Author: Paul Tapp, ATPE Managing Attorney