Juvenile Use of Weapons

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Our schools, a place of safety, learning, and growth, are being challenged daily by violent acts, including:  homicide, assaults, child sexual abuse, and violence affecting teachers, parents, children, and the whole community.  Victims of violent crimes may suffer physical, social, and emotional withdrawal from peer and family relations and become more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs. These traumatic experiences further contribute to their lack of effective learning, growth, and development. Today, the major problems in our schools are the use of firearms, weapons, substance abuse, and gangs. Such acts of violence occur not only in large urban areas, but also suburban and rural schools including both public and private schools. In 2004, students ages 12 to 18 were victims of 107,400 serious violent crimes at school (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006.) In 2005, 8% of students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon such as a gun, knife, or club on school property, and only 55% of high-school students felt safe at school.

The use of guns in schools has increased to the point that approximately one in four major school districts now uses metal detectors to reduce the number of weapons brought into schools by students. Juvenile offenders arrested for weapons violations are sometimes fellow students, and non-student peers who threaten and attack students, administrators, and teachers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1995 nearly one-fourth of students nationwide had carried a gun to school. In 1997, 4,205 children and teens died as a result of gunfire – one every two hours, nearly 12 every day. Gun violence among juveniles further causes countless injuries and disabilities.

The Crime Control Act of 1990 was passed by Congress in an effort to regain control of schools in the United States. The Act prohibits possession or discharge of a firearm on or within 1,000 feet of private, parochial, or public school grounds. Violators can face up to five years imprisonment, a fine of no more than $250,000, or both. As of 1996, fifteen states including New Jersey have passed laws making adults criminally liable for shootings committed by children who have access to the weapons. A maximum of three years in prison can result for a fatal shooting that occurs in this type of situation.

Any juvenile charged with unlawful possession of a firearm in New Jersey is subject to a Fourth Degree crime.  Furthermore, a juvenile charged with delinquency for weapon possession must face a retention hearing where the court may decide to hold the juvenile in detention pending the outcome of the case. If the juvenile was also in Possession of a Firearm for Unlawful Purposes, he faces an enhanced charge involving a Second Degree crime. If the firearm was brought into a school, then the charge is a Third Degree offense. A juvenile being charged with a Third Degree, and even Second Degree crime, can face a lengthy incarceration time or additional consequences if convicted.