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News / Northwest

Can you carry a firearm onto school grounds in WA? This Little League mother didn’t think so

By Shea Johnson, The News Tribune
Published: June 3, 2024, 6:03am

TACOMA — A woman who went to watch her 8-year-old son play in a Little League baseball game at Mount Tahoma High School this week was startled by something she saw: A parent open-carrying a pistol on his hip.

The woman was unnerved enough to alert Tacoma police. She told The News Tribune that responses she received Tuesday varied between two dispatchers and an officer. One dispatcher reportedly believed it was legal, another wasn’t exactly sure and an officer allegedly expressed disinterest in the call because the man hadn’t pointed his gun at anyone or otherwise caused a disturbance.

The state statute governing this issue is clear.

While it’s legal to openly carry a firearm in many public areas in Washington, as an open-carry state, it’s against the law to knowingly possess or carry one on the premises of a public or private elementary or secondary school, with a few exceptions, according to state statute.

“There are restrictions on carrying a firearm or other defined weapons on the grounds of a school,” Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office spokesperson Adam Faber told The News Tribune, adding that while it wasn’t exactly known, “certainly, the situation you described doesn’t seem to fit any of those exceptions.”

In the law, which also governs any dangerous weapon, there are situations that would exclude someone from its authority. They include, but aren’t limited to, anyone engaged in military, law enforcement or school district security activities, or anyone participating in a firearms safety course or school-approved firearms competition, according to RCW 9.41.280.

The law also doesn’t apply to individuals with a pistol and concealed pistol permit, or someone exempt from needing a permit, who are picking up or dropping off a student or attending school board meetings held off school property, the statute shows.

Violation of the law, which covers school-provided transportation and areas being used exclusively by schools as well, is a misdemeanor punishable in Washington by up to 90 days in jail, a fine up to $1,000 or both. For students, breaking the law constitutes grounds for expulsion.

In response to the concern expressed by the mother of the Little League player, Tacoma Police Department spokesperson Shelbie Boyd acknowledged that it was accurate that there were only a few exceptions to carrying dangerous weapons on school property.

“We were able to locate the mentioned call; however, we cannot ascertain what the officer communicated to the reporting party,” Boyd said in an email. “We have forwarded this concern to the operations captain for review.”

Boyd invited the woman to reach out to TPD to further discuss the matter and welcomed anyone who witnesses or is concerned about an officer’s conduct to report it to the department’s Internal Affairs division.

“TPD takes these claims very seriously, and we are committed to being accountable,” Boyd said. “We assure you that we will continue working to uphold the highest standard of conduct.”

The law also spells out when it’s OK to store legally-owned firearms or other dangerous weapons in vehicles on school premises. Non-student adults who are conducting legitimate business at a school are only ever permitted to do so, the statute says.

They may secure a firearm within an attended vehicle. If the vehicle is unattended, it must be locked and the weapon must be concealed from view. If the firearm is unloaded, the law simply states that the firearm may be secured in a vehicle.