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Unofficial Opinion 99-1

Unofficial Opinion 99-1

January 5, 1999
To: 

Senator
District 24

Re: 

School systems in counties with a population of less than 100,000 may not authorize their school security employees to carry firearms. However, law enforcement personnel who are authorized to carry firearms from some source other than the school board may provide security at school functions.

You have asked for an opinion regarding O.C.G.A. § 20-8-5. Your concern is whether that Code Section would prohibit armed security guards at school functions in counties in which the population is less than 100,000. In my view it does not.

Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 20-8-5 provides in pertinent part that in counties “having a population of 100,000 or more . . . school security personnel who are certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council may be authorized by a local board of education to carry a standard issue firearm or weapon generally used for law enforcement purposes for the purpose of carrying out law enforcement duties.” O.C.G.A. § 20-8-5(d) (emphasis added). It follows logically then that school boards in counties with less than 100,000 population may not authorize their security personnel to carry firearms. See Georgia Pub. Serv. Comm’n v. Alltel Georgia Communications Corp., 227 Ga. App. 382, 385 (1997) (“Construction of a statute must square with common sense and reasoning.”).

The statute as a whole is a set of provisions to empower school boards to have “school police” with certain law enforcement powers consistent with their employment duties. O.C.G.A. § 20-8-5. Thus, in the context of the whole statute, the language quoted above is not a prohibition on the presence of armed security personnel at school functions, it is instead permission to certain school boards to authorize their security employees to carry weapons. It is similar to the authority that city or county law enforcement personnel might have to carry weapons in the performance of their duty. See, e.g., O.C.G.A. § 36-8-5.

Certain law enforcement officers who are certified by the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council are authorized to carry their weapon even when off duty and on school grounds. See O.C.G.A. § 16-11-130. If those officers are employed as independent contractors to handle security at football games and school dances, there is no violation of O.C.G.A. § 20-8-5.

Based on the above discussion, it is my unofficial opinion that school systems in counties with a population of less than 100,000 may not authorize their school security employees to carry firearms. However, law enforcement personnel who are authorized to carry firearms from some source other than the school board may provide security at school functions.

Prepared by:

KATHRYN L. ALLEN
Senior Assistant Attorney General