Tag Archives: school grounds

The Goslin Decision’s Impact on Possessing Weapons on School Property

As our viewers are aware, earlier, we posted about the Superior Court’s monumental decision in Commonwealth v Goslin, where the court, en banc, held that the “plain meaning of Section 912(c) provides two separate defenses: possessing and using a weapon on school property ‘in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity’ as well as possessing ‘for other lawful purpose’.” (emphasis added)

But what does this mean? What is the impact? And why did the court remand the case to the trial court for a new trial?

First, it is extremely important to note that although this is an extremely favorable decision, the law provides that either of the separate two defenses are just that – defenses. Specifically, Section 912(c) provides:

It shall be a defense that the weapon is possessed and used in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity or course or is possessed for other lawful purpose.

This means that the Commonwealth can charge you and force you to raise Section 912(c) as a defense and be acquitted by way of the defense, if you are legally entitled to the defense.

But what does that mean? Well, everyone wants bright line rules but unfortunately, in most cases, there aren’t bright line rules, when you wade into the minutiae of scenarios that can arise. So, let’s talk about what are the bright line rules from this decision:

  1. If you are prohibited from possessing a certain type of weapon (such as firearms or stun guns), you cannot utilize this defense, as you would not be in lawful possession of the weapon and therefore would not have a lawful purpose.
  2. If one is required to have special licensing to possess the weapon (such as a license to carry firearms (“LTCF”)) and you do not have an LTCF, you cannot utilize this defense, as you would not be in lawful possession of the weapon and therefore would not have a lawful purpose.
  3. If you intend to commit or actually do use your firearm to commit a crime on school grounds, you cannot utilize this defense, as you would have an unlawful purpose.

But, what if I am not prohibited from possessing a certain type of weapon, have the requisite licensing (if any) to possess the weapon and am carrying the weapon for purposes of self-defense, can I possess the weapon on school grounds?

Based on this decision (and other arguments under the PA and US Constitutions), you would be entitled to the defense found in Section 912(c); however, as mentioned above, nothing would prevent the District Attorney from charging you and forcing you to prove your defense. Now, that being said, few law enforcement officers are going to want to charge someone in this situation, because if they do, and the charges are dismissed or you are acquitted, you can bring a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against them for violating your rights.

Ok, but what if I need to utilize the weapon I am carrying on school grounds, let’s say for purpose of self-defense?

Here, while there are great arguments – arguments that we raised in our briefing – the decision does not address whether someone possessing a weapon for “other lawful purposes” may use it. In fact, a significant portion of my argument was that the General Assembly utilized different verbs for the different clauses. Specifically, you will see that the General Assembly permitted both use and possession in relation to a “lawful supervised school activity or course” (due to school shooting teams, Boy Scouts…etc, which actively possess and use weapons on school grounds) but only specified possession in relation to “other lawful purpose.” Moreover, as Mr. Goslin was not required to use the pocketknife that he lawfully possessed, this was not an issue before the court. That being said, if an individual, who possessed the weapon for purposes of self-defense, later used that weapon on school grounds for purposes of self-defense, there are great constitutional and statutory arguments that one can make to permit the use of the weapon in that limited circumstance.

Accordingly, the key points are that anyone lawfully possessing a weapon on school grounds ensure that they are possessing it for a lawful purpose (e.g. self-defense) and they understand that they can be charged with violating Section 912 and forced to argue the defense under Section 912(c).

So why did the Superior Court remand this case to the trial court?

Well, although the record establishes that Mr. Goslin lawfully possessed his knife, the trial court never addressed whether he lawfully possessed his knife, as it held that he wasn’t entitled to the defense since his possession of the knife was not related to a school activity. It is for that reason that the Superior Court remanded it back to the trial for a new trial. However, since posting our article on the decision, the District Attorney reached out to me and advised that they do not plan to appeal and intend to nolle prosequi (in essence, dismiss) the charges against Mr. Goslin. Accordingly, Mr. Goslin will not have go through another trial or file additional motions.

As our readers are aware, unfortunately,  Mr. Goslin was not in a position to fund this litigation. Therefore, if you are in a position to be able to help fund this monumental victory, Mr. Goslin would greatly appreciate donations which can be made online through our Firm’s escrow account here – https://secure.lawpay.com/pages/princelaw/trust. Simply place Goslin Appeal in the Matter No/Client Name box.

If you or someone you know has been charged with possessing a weapon on school grounds, contact us today to discuss YOUR rights.


Filed under Firearms Law, Pennsylvania Firearms Law

Oral Argument in Commonwealth v. Goslin – Possession of a Weapon on School Grounds

Today, the Superior Court, en banc, heard oral argument in the matter of Commonwealth v. Goslin, 1114 MDA 2015, where Mr. Goslin was previously convicted for merely possessing a lawful pocketknife on school property.

As many of our viewers are aware, I was previously successful in having the court vacate its prior decisions and order re-briefing and re-argument.

The en banc panel of the Superior Court was comprised of Judges Bender, Bowes, Panella, Lazarus, Ott, Stabile, Dubow, Moulton and Ramson.

As soon as I began my argument, the Judges began to pepper me with questions, including a very direct question by Judge Bowes of whether the prior (vacated) decision of the Superior Court violated the Second Amendment. As I had argued in our briefs, I responded that if the Court were to find, consistent with its prior decision, that an individual may only possess a weapon on school property relative to a school activity or course, it would violate the Second Amendment. I used this this opportunity to provide an example – I explained that my alma mater, The Hill School in Pottstown, PA, is a boarding school, where both the students and teachers live on campus. If the Court were to affirm its prior decision, teachers would be foreclosed in possessing firearms in their homes, which the U.S. Supreme Court found was at the “core” of the Second Amendment in Heller and would therefore result in the law being unconstitutional. Judge Bowes nodded her head in agreement.

At that point, Judge Moulton inquired whether the school in this matter was not one where teachers lived on campus. After confirming that such was my understanding, he then stated then that isn’t applicable to the case before us. At that point, I respectfully responded that it is to the extent the Court resorts to statutory construction, as one of the criteria to be considered is the unintended consequences of a particular interpretation. At that point, Judge Moulton stated that there were numerous unintended consequences of the prior ruling, as pointed out in our briefs.

Judge Bowes asked me to then explain our position on the defense found in Section 912(c) providing for two separate and distinct circumstances. I explained that in relation to the first, where the weapon is possessed in relation to a school activity or course, the General Assembly permitted both “possession” and “use”; whereas, in the second, where a weapon is possessed for “other lawful purposes,” I explained that the General Assembly only permitted possession. I then went on to explain that although “use” would generally be prohibited in relation to the “other lawful purpose” clause, an individual could still use the weapon, if such was necessitated, under the statutory provisions for justification or self defense. Judges Lazarus, Bowes, Bender, Stabile and Dubow all seemed to be nodding their heads in agreement. I further explained that the laws of the Commonwealth define that which is unlawful; not that which is lawful. As the Superior Court has previously held that a pocket knife not only has a lawful purpose, but a “common lawful purpose”, Mr. Goslin’s conduct clearly meets the criteria of possession for an “other lawful purpose.”

Judge Lazarus then asked me (based on an argument in our brief) if an officer, who was attending a parent teacher conference, possessed a firearm during that time, whether he would have violated the statute. I responded that he would not, assuming the Court were to agree with our interpretation, as the officer would have no unlawful purpose; however, if the Court were to affirm its prior decision, then the officer’s possession of a firearm would not be necessitated by his reason for being on school grounds and he would be in violation of the statute. Judge Lazarus and several others nodded their heads in agreement.

At that point, Judge Moulton asked me to address the vagueness issue and whether that would preclude a criminal conviction, as we had additionally argued in the alternative. I explained that although we believe the statute was not vague, if learned jurists of the Superior Court could not agree on what constituted a lawful purpose, then the statute must be found to be too vague to support a criminal conviction, as no lay person could possibly know whether or not his/her conduct was lawful. All the judges seemed to agree with that proposition.

As I had reserved 5 minutes of rebuttal time, my time was up (in actuality, after the buzzer went off for my initial 10 mins, the Judges continued to ask question for at least another 3-4 mins). At this point the Assistant District Attorney (ADA) tried to start his opening remarks and got hammered with questions. The Court was somewhat relentless in questioning why the DA would bring charges in this, of all, situations, especially where they were arguing that the statute was vague. In this vein, the Court asked why the DA would not use prosecutorial discretion not to charge, instead of moving forward with charging where they acknowledge the statute is vague. Judge Lazarus asked why would they bring this specific charge in this context, to which the ADA responded that they had also previously filed charges for Terroristic Threats. Judge Lazarus almost fell out of her chair at the ADA’s statement and she even clarified that “You’re telling us, that because he took a pocketknife out of his pocket and placed it on the table, during a conference at school, that such constituted a terroristic threat?” When the ADA confirmed such, I truly believe based on Judge Lazarus’ facial expressions that she thought she was living in the twilight zone.

At this point, Judge Lazarus posed the question to the ADA that she posed to me. The ADA conceded that if this Court’s prior holding was affirmed (as they were arguing for), then the officer would have violated the statute. Judge Lazarus immediately asked if he would prosecute the officer. Although the ADA may have responded, I never heard an actual response and it was quite clear that Judge Lazarus was incensed by the DA’s position in this matter. Judge Stabile followed up by asking (based on an argument in our brief) whether a student, who possessed a baseball bat on school property for use after school in a non-school related activity was in violation. The ADA conceded that under their interpretation, such would be a violation. Judge Stabile shook his head seemingly in amazement at the DA’s position.

Before long, the ADA’s time was up and I think he was relieved to be done; but, I still had 5 minutes reserved for rebuttal.

First, I used the opportunity to respond to the ADA’s comment that the purpose this statute was enacted was to protect students from violence. I explained that we have laws on the book precluding murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, aggravated and simple assault, terroristic threats and recklessly endangering another person, including the inchoate crimes of attempt, solicitation and conspiracy, most of which have far harsher grading than Section 912 and which have not stopped criminals from committing crimes in schools or in society at large. Several judges nodded in agreement.

I also used that time to draw to the Court’s attention another statute, Section 908 – Prohibited Offensive Weapons, where we see similar language utilized. There, it talks about weapons that have no “common lawful purpose.” I explained that this shows that the General Assembly, where it believes appropriate, knows how to even limit lawful purposes to those that are “common” but that the General Assembly in Section 912 permitted all lawful purposes, regardless of how common or uncommon they are. At that point, my time was up and I respectfully requested that the Court reverse the trial court, enter a finding of not guilty and hold that an individual may possess a weapon on school grounds, provided that it is not utilized for unlawful purposes.

As our readers are aware, unfortunately,  Mr. Goslin is not in a position to fund this litigation. Therefore, if you are in a position to be able to help fund this matter, Mr. Goslin would greatly appreciate donations which can be made online through our Firm’s escrow account here – https://secure.lawpay.com/pages/princelaw/trust. Simply place Goslin Appeal in the Matter No/Client Name box.

We will keep our viewers apprised of the Superior Court’s ultimate decision in this matter


Filed under Pennsylvania Firearms Law