Tag Archives: school

The Problems With Senate Bill 383 Permitting Teachers To Carry Firearms In Pennsylvania

Recently, there has been a lot of public interest and questions asked about Pennsylvania Senate Bill 383, which seeks to provide school districts with the ability to approve school personnel to carry firearms in schools. As many of you are aware, I full support having armed school personnel in our schools; however, this bill suffers from many issues that appear to have never been considered.

First, it requires the school official to have a license to carry firearms (“LTCF”). Why is this of concern? Well, SB 383 fails to consider that LTCF applicant information is confidential and not subject to disclosure; whereby, the disclosure of such information is a felony of the 3rd degree and permits civil penalties. Specifically, 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111(g)(3.1) provides:

Any person, licensed dealer, licensed manufacturer or licensed importer who knowingly and intentionally obtains or furnishes information collected or maintained pursuant to section 6109 for any purpose other than compliance with this chapter or who knowingly or intentionally disseminates, publishes or otherwise makes available such information to any person other than the subject of the information commits a felony of the third degree.

Section 6111(i) then provides, in pertinent part:

Confidentiality.  All information provided by the … applicant, including, but not limited to, the … applicant’s name or identity, furnished by … any applicant for a license to carry a firearm as provided by section 6109 shall be confidential and not subject to public disclosure. In addition to any other sanction or penalty imposed by this chapter, any person, licensed dealer, State or local governmental agency or department that violates this subsection shall be liable in civil damages in the amount of $ 1,000 per occurrence or three times the actual damages incurred as a result of the violation, whichever is greater, as well as reasonable attorney fees.

Second, the bill does nothing to address the confidentiality of this information and how a school district is to protect the disclosure of this information. Who is entitled within the school district to see and have access to this information? Are logs to be kept of who views it and when? Is any training on the confidentiality of LTCF applicant information to be provided to school officials who have access to this information? If so, how frequently? Are logs to be kept of their training? These are all important issues that are not addressed, in any form, by the bill.

I also question why an LTCF is the determining criteria instead of the person being Act 235 certified. It would seem to be far more logical to me to remove the LTCF requirement and replace it with an Act 235 requirement.

Third, and most concerning is the fact that without the confidentiality of this information being addressed in SB 383, one wonders whether such information will be disclosed to the public, including through Right To Know Law (“RTKL”) requests. If so, now an individual intent on harming our children, including a potential terrorist or terrorist group, could learn, in advance, whether a school district has any armed personnel. If so, the criminal/terrorist is likely to target those school personnel first. If, on the other hand, a RTKL request comes back stating that there are no relevant records, such would highlight that there are no armed personnel and that the school is an extremely soft target.

Although I support arming our school personnel, SB 383 fails to address many significant concerns and therefore, I cannot support it in its current form. My hope is that the General Assembly takes action to correct SB 383.

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Chief Counsel Prince Secures MONUMENTAL Decision from the Superior Court, en banc, regarding Possession of Weapons on School Property

Today, the Superior Court, en banc, issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Goslin, 1114 MDA 2015, regarding whether an individual is entitled to claim the defense of “other lawful purpose” when carrying a weapon on school grounds.

As our viewers are aware, after the original devastating decision was issued by the Superior Court holding that one could not possess a weapon on school grounds, unless it was related to a school activity, Chief Counsel Joshua Prince contacted Mr. Goslin and offered to represent him in petitioning the Superior Court to reconsider his case, en banc, and permit re-briefing and oral argument. After filing the motion for reconsideration, the Superior Court vacated its prior decision, granted reconsideration, en banc, and permitted the parties to re-brief the matter and to argue the matter at oral argument. Thereafter, Chief Counsel Prince re-briefed the matter and attended oral argument.

Today, the Superior Court, en banc, without any dissenting opinions, filed its decision vacating the trial court’s finding of guilt and declaring:

We disagree with the trial court’s conclusion that the language of Section 912(c) is vague.
Rather, we conclude that, in order to ascertain the meaning of Section 912(c), we need not look beyond its plain language. 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, as Chief Counsel Prince specifically argued this exact construction and noted the different verbs utilized related to the different provisions)

Consistent therewith, the court declared that:

for purposes of the instant case, the plain meaning of the phrase “other lawful purpose” is an aim or goal different from, or in addition to, an aim or goal described in the first clause of Section 912(c), i.e., in conjunction with “a lawful supervised school activity or course.” The second clause of this subsection, thus, serves as a catchall provision.

Contrary to the trial court’s conclusion, the “other lawful purpose” language does not restrict the defense provided in Section 912(c). Instead, the phrase does just the opposite: it expands the defense to include any additional or different lawful reason not otherwise mentioned in the first clause of Section 912(c), regardless of whether it is school-related. (emphasis added, as Chief Counsel Prince additionally argued this construction of the statute).

The Superior Court also included a footnote declaring:

Although we are concerned about individuals possessing weapons on school property, we are bound by the broad defense that the legislature has provided defendants in such cases.

As our readers are aware, unfortunately,  Mr. Goslin was not in a position to fund this litigation and his costs will continue to accrue, as the case is now remanded back to the trial court. 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.

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MONUMENTAL Decision from the Superior Court Vacating Its Prior Decision Regarding Weapons on School Property!

As our viewers are aware, I previously wrote about the devastating decision in Commonwealth v. Goslin from the Superior Court in relation to carrying a weapon on school property and the “other lawful purpose” defense.

After the decision, Mr. Goslin contacted me and we, pro-bono, filed a Motion for Reconsideration/Reargument en banc, wherein, inter alia, we argued that the Superior Court should permit new briefs to be filed and oral argument, after vacating the court’s July 6, 2016 decision. Today, the Superior Court GRANTED the motion, withdrew the July 6, 2016 decisions and scheduled re-briefing and argument.

Accordingly, the Superior Court’s July 6, 2016 decision is no longer valid and we will have an opportunity to re-argue the matter. Unfortunately, the court only provided several weeks to submit briefs and Mr. Goslin is not in a position to fund the briefing and argument. 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

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Devastating Decision from the Superior Court on “Other Lawful Purpose”

Today, the Superior Court issued a decision in Commonwealth v. Goslin, which addressed the defense in 18 Pa.C.S. § 912 that a weapon could be carried on school property for other lawful purposes.

In this case, Mr. Goslin attended an informal hearing with school officials regarding his son’s possession of a knife on school property. The purpose of the hearing was to “allow the family and student to discuss and answer any questions they may have and the school administration to ask any questions they may have and review the incident as they know it to have been.” During the hearing, Mr Goslin stated “that he had a knife and asked if [the school] would arrest him for having it. At that point, he forcefully placed it on the table in front of people at the meeting.”

Mr. Goslin testified that he carries the knife with him every day “because [he] use[s] it. [He] use[s] it at work, [he] use[s] it to sharpen pencils, [he] use[s] it to open tuna cans when [his] wife forgets to pack [him] a tuna can opener. [He] whittle sticks with [his] sons.” He went on to declare: “It occurred to me at the moment, oh, my goodness, they called the police on my nine-year-old son for having a whittling knife. I actually have a
pocket knife on me now and am I a criminal as well?”

During Mr. Goslin’s trial, he stipulated to possessing the knife on school property but argued that it was possessed for an “other lawful purpose” as provided for by 18 Pa.C.S. 912(c). Specifically, Section 912(c) provides: “Defense.–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.”

Unfortunately, the trial court declared

My view of the plain reading or the plain language in the statute is that the defense is there for some lawful purpose upon which the weapon would be brought onto the school property, that’s not the same thing as saying that the weapon wasn’t brought there for some unlawful purpose. I see a distinction between those two, and I guess I would agree with the position the Commonwealth has taken that that defense is there for someone to bring a weapon onto the property for some legitimate reason pursuant to their presence on the school property, and there are probably lots of things.

 

I think in [Appellant’s] case, if [he] had said he brought the knife that [his] son was accused of having and it was the basis of the hearing, [Appellant] brought it from an evidentiary standpoint for the hearing itself, that to me would be some type of an example of bringing a weapon onto the property for lawful purposes.

 

The hearing was there, it involved that particular item which the school was alleging was a weapon, and if you had said the reason you had it was for that, I could see that’s something that probably the statute would cover. But that isn’t the case here. This is a different weapon. It’s clearly one that’s set forth in the statute as being prohibited. There isn’t a question about you knowing that it was on your person at the time.

The statute is clearly created to prohibit weapons from being brought onto school property unless there is a specific reason as carved out in the statute that they are to be viewed as not violating this criminal provision, but I don’t think [Appellant’s] situation falls within one of those reasons.

As a result, the trial court convicted him and he appealed, pro se. Unfortunately, the Superior Court believed him competent to handle his own appeal and did not appoint an attorney to handle his appeal.

After the Superior Court found the language “other lawful purpose” to be “not explicit,” it looked to the rules of statutory construction and declared that “public policy of maintaining, and acting to ensure, the safety of those who inhabit our schools” was of paramount importance in interpreting the statutory language.

As a result, the Superior Court held:

Appellant appeared in his capacity as a parent, with no purpose to possessing the knife on school property.

Had Appellant been at the school in a capacity which necessitated his possession of the knife, he could avail himself of the “other lawful purpose” defense to possessing the knife on school property. But that is not the case before us. If we were to accept Appellant’s interpretation of Section 912(c), we would be sanctioning the presence of weapons on school property in countless scenarios. Such sanction would be contrary to the intent of the General Assembly, which clearly enacted Section 912 to safeguard public welfare by prohibiting weapons in or near schools. We therefore discern no error by the trial court in convicting Appellant of possessing a weapon on school property, and affirm the June 2, 2015 judgment of sentence.

Learned Judge Dubow’s dissent, on the other hand, correctly reviews the plain meaning of the statute and declares:

Here, unlike the majority, I find that the statutory language is clear and unambiguous and should, therefore, not look beyond its plain language to ascertain its meaning.

 

My review confirms that the plain meaning of Section 912(c) provides two separate defenses: (1) possessing a weapon on school property “in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity;” and (2) possessing “for other lawful purpose.”

Something that is “other” is “distinct from the one or those first mentioned or understood,” or is “additional.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1598 (1986).

 

A “lawful” act is one that is “allowed or permitted by law.”

 

And, last, a “purpose” is “something that one sets before himself as an object to be attained,” “an end or aim to be kept in view in any plan, measure, exertion, or operation,” or “an object, effect, or result aimed at, intended, or attained.”

By its plain terms, the first clause of this subsection specifically provides as a defense to the charge of Possession of Weapon on School Property the possession of a weapon that is possessed and used in association with a lawful supervised school activity or course.

 

The second clause of this subsection—and the one at issue here— serves as a catchall provision. The “other lawful purpose” language does not restrict the defense provided in section 912(c), as the majority has concluded. Instead, I find that the critical phrase does just the opposite. It expands the defense to include any additional or different lawful reason not otherwise mentioned in the first clause of section 912(c), regardless ofwhether it is school-related. To conclude otherwise renders “possessed for other lawful purpose” redundant with “possessed and used in association with a lawful supervised school activity or course.”

I note that the possession of weapons on school property is obviously a major concern to communities across Pennsylvania. It is, however, for the legislature, and not the courts, to limit the applicability of a defense to any crime. The legislature has not yet done so here and the courts lack the authority to re-write the clear and unambiguous language of Section 912(c). Therefore, I am bound to interpret Section 912(c) broadly, and, consequently, would reverse Appellant’s judgment of sentence and order a new trial. (emphasis added)

Accordingly, under this decision, an individual cannot carry a firearm pursuant to a valid license to carry firearms, even though such would not be a per se unlawful purpose. Rather, in Judge Mundy’s and Judge Strassburger’s judicially activist opinion, one must have an explicitly statutory permitted basis, such as being a law enforcement officer, to have a firearm on school property.

However, all may not be lost. Since this was a 3 judge panel decision, with a dissenting opinion, the Superior Court may be enticed to review the decision en banc, if a proper motion for reconsideration en banc is filed by competent counsel. Otherwise, unless appealed and overturned by the PA Supreme Court, this decision will be controlling.

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Can You Bring Your Sword Into a School Administration Building? The Superior Court Says No…

Recently, in Commonwealth v. Giordano, 2015 PA Super 167, the Pennsylvania Superior Court published an opinion by Judge Wecht (who is currently running for PA Supreme Court) holding that although a school administration building was not defined in the statute as part of an “elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution” and no case law existed as to whether an administration building could constitute an “elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution,” Mr. Giordano could be convicted for violating Section 912 by bringing a sword into an administration building.

Section 912 provides

(a)  Definition.  Notwithstanding the definition of “weapon” in section 907 (relating to possessing instruments of crime), “weapon” for purposes of this section shall include but not be limited to any knife, cutting instrument, cutting tool, nun- chuck stick, firearm, shotgun, rifle and any other tool, instrument or implement capable of inflicting serious bodily injury.

(b)  Offense defined.  A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if he possesses a weapon in the buildings of, on the grounds of, or in any conveyance providing transportation to or from any elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution, any elementary or secondary private school licensed by the Department of Education or any elementary or secondary parochial school.

(c)  Defense.  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.

As stated in the opinion, “Giordano asserts that the Commonwealth proved only that he carried a weapon into the administration building, which is neither an elementary nor a secondary educational institution.” The court acknowledged that “[w]e have found no precedent that defines “elementary or secondary publicly-funded education institution for purposes of the statute” and that “[t]herefore, we must construe those terms using our interpretive canons. After reviewing several dictionary definitions of “education institution” and secondary school, the court declares

Here, the administration building does not provide the first four to eight years of a child’s formal education nor does it off a general, technical, vocational, or college-preparatory curricula. However, we must also consider that the General Assembly does not intend an absurd result.

Hold on, the court acknowledges that it doesn’t fit any of the dictionary definitions, so to accomplish the court’s desired result, they declare that because “homebound instruction is provided in the building,” it constitutes an elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution? This sure sounds like judicial activism to me, especially when the court is determining whether there was sufficient evidence to convict Mr. Giordano of a misdemeanor of the 1st degree.

Mr. Giordano also argues that Section 912 is not a strict liability crime and therefore, consistent with prior holdings of the Commonwealth Court, requires that the Commonwealth prove that he had the mens rea to commit a crime. The court agreed with Mr. Giordano that the Commonwealth had to establish that he acted intentionally, knowingly or recklessly. However, the court, once again seemingly motivated by its own desired ends, found that since Mr. Giordano knew that a weapon could not be brought into a school building, the mens rea was established. While there is no dispute that Mr. Giordano knew he could not bring his sword into a school building, the court seems completely oblivious to the first several pages of its opinion, where it acknowledged that the statute did not specify that an administration building was part of an elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution and that no case law existed to place Mr. Giordano on notice that an administration building may constitute an elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution. If a statute is so vague as it does not place an individual on notice that his/her conduct may be prohibited, then the statute is unconstitutional for violating due process and the individual cannot be charged for violating it. Commonwealth v. Baxter, 2008 PA Super 200, 956 A.2d 465, 468-469 (Pa. Super. 2008) (en banc).

Additionally, there is no mention of whether Mr. Giordano argued that the defense found in subsection (c) applied. As there is an exception for other lawful purpose and nothing in the opinion establishes that he had an unlawful purpose, it would seem that subsection (c) would have applied.

It is truly disheartening when our courts permit the ends to justify the means. While it may not have been wise of Mr. Giordano to carry a sword into the administration building, such does not make it unlawful.

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