by Robin Kemp
As Clayton County Public Schools investigate an “accidental discharge” at Jonesboro High on Monday, Feb. 28, a young man sits in the Clayton County Jail and parents are asking how a gun got into their kids’ school.
According to parent Nicole Salazar, “My son mentioned this incident happened during 4th lunch period but they did not lock the students down until 10 mins before dismissal.”
Several other schools around the system also went on lockdown.
The school day ends at 3:15 p.m. Parents found out about the incident when a text message from the principal went out about 4:29 p.m.:
“Good Afternoon JHS Parents, Students and Staff,” the text message read. “Clayton County Public Schools can confirm that Jonesboro High School has been placed on lockdown due to a student being in possession of a firearm. Reports indicate that the firearm discharged but no students or employees were injured as a result.
“The leadership of Jonesboro High School and the district are following established protocols in addressing this matter in order to ensure the safety of students and staff at the school. District and school administrators will also follow the appropriate recourse for handling this matter in alignment with Clayton County Public Schools Student Handbook and Code of Conduct.
“As an investigation into the incident continues, the student has been arrested.
“Respectfully, F Brown, JHS Principal.”
In a statement issued Tuesday, CCPS said it would not provide further details about the incident, citing an ongoing investigation. The Clayton Crescent filed an Open Records Request for the initial incident report(s), arrest records, and/or closed case file(s), including statements by witnesses or victims age 13 or older. On Wednesday, CCPS responded that the initial incident report would not be complete for another 48 hours.
A check of Clayton County online court records shows Andre Lamont Tucker, 17, of Jonesboro was denied bond on possession of a handgun by a person under 18. During Tucker’s first appearance on March 1, Associate Magistrate Judge Stephen Knights, Jr. granted Tucker $1,000 bond on one count of possessing a weapon at school functions or on school property, $10,000 bond on disruption with operation of a public school, and $10,000 bond on firearms discharge on the property of another.
Tucker’s next appearance is a preliminary hearing on April 18 at 8:30 a.m., with a bond hearing scheduled for April 22. Knights appointed an attorney to represent Tucker. His case was transferred to Chief Magistrate Judge Keisha Wright Hill.
Online jail records show Tucker was booked February 28 at 6:62 p.m. and that he was arrested by Morrow Police. Those records also show that he was denied bond on possessing a weapon at functions or on school property and granted $10,000 bond plus $1,200 in fees on each of the other three charges.
“The firearm discharged”
Experienced gun owners understand that a firearm does not go off by itself. Someone has to pull the trigger or some object like a pen in a bookbag or a lipstick in a purse has to get into the trigger guard. Even if a person drops a firearm and it goes off, that person is responsible for the negligent discharge.
Because people under 18 cannot legally possess handguns except in very specific instances, they generally do not have access to a qualified instructor who can teach them how to handle a pistol or revolver safely–unless their parent or guardian has signed them up for a class.
What’s more, young people’s brains are not fully developed until about age 25. That means they are to one degree or another unable to control their impulses. What seems like a really good idea or a fun thing to do at one moment can lead to irreversible tragedy in a split second.
All Clayton County Public School students get a handbook, which explains what steps the school system takes to address weapons incidents. Much of the handbook is written in bureaucratic legalese, which could make it harder for students and parents to read. That kind of language does protect the school system because it puts students and parents on notice as to what behavior is OK or not. In any case, it’s unclear whether a book of rules is a deterrent to kids who might bring a parent’s pistol to school on impulse.
We went through the handbook and looked at all the weapons policies. What follows is not legal advice, but an explanation that might help students and parents understand more about what happens in these incidents and what the consequences the student with the weapon will face.
Can a student bring a weapon to school?
Simply put: No.
You can’t have them, you can’t show them to your friends, you can’t bring it to Show and Tell, you can’t use it to scare people, you can’t sell it, you can’t flash it, you can’t touch it.
Or, as the student handbook puts it, CCPS students “shall not possess, handle, transmit, or cause to be transmitted; use or threaten to use; sell, attempt to sell, or conspire to sell a weapon—either concealed or open to view—while on school property. All weapons shall be confiscated and given to law enforcement agencies as appropriate.”
Under Georgia law (O.C.G.A. 20-2-751.1), any student who is found to have brought a firearm or dangerous weapons to school will be recommended for at least one year’s expulsion.
“State law dictates that any student determined to have brought a firearm or dangerous weapon to school will be recommended for expulsion from the Clayton County Public Schools System. The minimum expulsion shall be for a period of one calendar year (O.C.G.A. §20-2-751.1).”
“It is punishable up to a felony for any person to carry, possess, or have under such person’s control while at a school building, school function, on school property, in a school safety zone, or on a bus or other mode of transportation furnished by the school any weapon or explosive compound. This includes, but is not limited to, any pistol, revolver, knives, razors, spring stick, nunchucks, other bludgeon weapons or fighting chains, etc., or like weapons of any kind including stun guns and laser guns. Any non-licensed holder violating this law, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000, by imprisonment (for not less than two years, not more than 10 years), or both (O.C.G.A. §16-11-127.1).”
What is a weapon?
Most people think of a gun or a knife when they hear the word “weapon.” The CCPS Student Handbook goes into great detail about different kinds of weapons and dangerous items:
- Firearm: handgun, rifle, shotgun, or other weapon that will or can be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or electrical charge
- Dangerous weapon (10 days out of school suspension, tribunal, recommended 1-year expulsion, requirements for which can be changed by the School Board, Dr. Beasley, administrator, hearing officer, tribunal, or panel):
- rocket launcher, bazooka, or recoilless rifle, which fires explosive or nonexplosive rockets designed to injure or kill personnel, destroy heavy armor, or any similar weapon used for such purposes
- mortar, which fires high explosives from a metallic cylinder and is commonly used by the armed forces as an antipersonnel weapon or similar weapon used for such purposes
- hand grenade or other similar weapon that is designed to explode and injure personnel
- Hazardous object: “any pellet gun, BB gun, antique firearm, or other felony weapon; any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, any other knife having a blade of two or more inches, straightedge razor, razor blade; spring stick, knuckles (made from metal, thermoplastic, wood or similar material), or blackjack; any bat, club, or other bludgeon-type weapon; any flailing instrument consisting of two or more rigid parts connected in such a manner as to allow them to swing freely also known as nunchukka, nunchuck, nunchaku; shuriken, fighting chain, or any disc of whatever configuration having at least two points or pointed blades that is designed to be thrown or propelled (also known as a throwing star, oriental dart, or any instrument of the like kind); and any nonlethal air gun, stun gun, or taser.”
- Non-felony weapon or look-a-like weapon: “Any knife or instrument having a blade of less than two inches; any look-a-like firearm, mace, pepper gas, or like substances (mere possession of pepper gas or like substance is not a violation of this code of conduct unless the administration determined that the student brought it to school with the intent to harm another); any firearm muffler or silencer; chains, ice picks, plastic disposable razor, or slingshot; or any tool or instrument which can reasonably be used as a weapon or is intended to be used as a weapon.”
- Dangerous instrument: “Any item that is thrown, used as a projectile, or used to penetrate or cause bruises or contusions to skin or other body parts of a person (i.e., pencil, chair, stapler).”
- Explosives and ammunition: Smoke bombs, fireworks, bullets, and other similar items (except firecrackers).
- Students may not have matches, firecrackers, poppers, cigarette lighters, or “unauthorized instruments” like syringes and needles at school. They also cannot light the matches, lighters, firecrackers, or poppers.
Any student who brings a weapon to school can be sent to an alternative school.
If any school employee “has reasonable cause to believe” that a student has committed aggravated assault with a firearm; carried a weapon or long gun on school property, at a school event, or in a school safety zone; carried a weapon in an unauthorized location; or is under 18 and illegally in possession of a handgun, this is what happens:
- The school employee immediately reports the act and the student’s name to the principal or “the principal’s designee”
- The principal “who has reasonable cause to believe that the report is valid” immediately calls or otherwise contacts Superintendent Dr. Morcease Beasley, “the appropriate police authority”–whether that’s CCPS Police or other police agencies–and District Attorney Tasha Mosley.
- All weapons “shall be confiscated and given to law enforcement agencies as appropriate.” Dr. Beasley or a “designated school official” will talk to the police about what happens to the weapon after that. For example, the weapon would be handed over to the police as evidence if the student is arrested and charged.
- A 17-year old who fires a gun and is convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm on a police officer faces at least 10 to 20 years in prison
- A 17-year-old who did not fire a gun but is convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm on a police officer faces at least three but possibly up to 20 years in prison
- Anyone convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm against a student, teacher, “or other school personnel” in a school safety zone, faces a mandatory five to 20 years in prison.
What does the school system do when a student who brings a firearm or other weapon to school? According to the CCPS Student Handbook, that depends on how old the student is.
Pre-K through Third Grade
Kids in these grades “may not be assigned out of school suspension or expelled for more than five days in a school year without receiving the Multi-Tiered System of Supports , which is a systemic, continuous-improvement framework in which data based problem solving and decision making is practiced across all levels of the educational system for supporting students at multiple levels of intervention….unless such student possessed a weapon, (weapon includes dangerous weapons, firearms, and hazardous objects as defined in O.C.G.A. § 20- 2-751), illegal drugs, or other dangerous instrument or such student’s behavior endangers the physical safety of other students or school personnel.”
A student who brings a firearm to school–loaded or unloaded–will be transferred to the Alternative School. The same goes for students who bring illegal drugs to school, students who are under the influence of illegal drugs, or who use physical violence against school employees, whether or not the employee was hurt.
No Driving Privileges
Students who bring a weapon to school or to a school-sponsored event(for example, a football game) can lose or be blocked from getting their learner’s permit or driver’s license. If a student is 14 or older and has a school weapons violation from the previous year, he or she may not be able to get the required letter from their school giving them permission to apply for a driver’s license.
State “Unsafe School” Designation
According to CCPD’s student handbook, “Major disciplinary offenses including, but not limited to drug and weapons offenses, can lead to school designation as an Unsafe School according to the provisions of State Board Rule 160-4-8-.16.” Every year, school systems have to submit data about student criminal activity to the state Board of Education. Every July 1, the State Board contacts local school boards if any school is found to be a “persistently dangerous school.” That means one of three things happened:
At least one student, while violating school rules, committed:
- Aggravated battery (O.C.G.A. § )
- Aggravated child molestation (O.C.G.A. § )
- Aggravated sexual battery (O.C.G.A. § )
- Aggravated sodomy (O.C.G.A. § )
- Armed robbery (O.C.G.A. § )
- Arson – first degree (O.C.G.A. § )
- Kidnapping (O.C.G.A. § )
- Murder (O.C.G.A. § )
- Rape (O.C.G.A. § )
- Voluntary manslaughter (O.C.G.A. § )
or, 2% of the student population or 10 students, whichever is greater, while violating school rules, committed crimes involving:
- Non-felony drugs (O.C.G.A. § )
- Felony drugs (O.C.G.A. § ; ; )
- Felony weapons (O.C.G.A. § )
- Terroristic threats (O.C.G.A. § )
or, a combination of both situations took place.
A single on-campus weapons incident is almost always going to be a felony weapons charge. And that could land a school on the state’s “Unsafe School” or “Persistently Dangerous School” list. In that case, other students have the right to transfer to “safe” schools.
Yet a look at the Georgia Department of Education’s Unsafe Schools webpage revealed that “No Georgia school has met the persistently dangerous school criteria pursuant to State Board Rule 160-4-8-.16 since 2005.”
If a student takes or tries to take anything from someone else or from the school “under confrontational circumstances by force or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the person in fear” while using a weapon of any kind, the student faces consequences of Level 1 through 4, “(d)epending on the severity of the incident, evidence, previous discipline history, and prior interventions implemented.”
Can students carry on campus?
It’s important to note that any person who does not have a weapons license and who carries a weapon on school grounds–whether that’s a pistol, a rifle, a knife, or any other weapon–is committing a felony. In Georgia, you have to be at least 21 to get a Weapons Carry License, or you have to be 18 and have completed military training. Because you cannot get into the military without either a high school diploma or a GED, virtually no CCPS student would be eligible for a WCL. If someone has a WCL (student, parent, visitor) and carries on campus, that is a misdemeanor and still illegal under state law.
Kids take other people’s guns
When kids and teenagers know where a gun is, they may feel free to take it. Whether it’s under the car seat, in a purse, on a nightstand, at someone else’s house, or on the street, bad things can happen quickly.
Many young people say they bring guns to school to show their friends or to ward off bullies. Others may bring guns to school as part of a larger pattern of destructive or criminal behavior if they are having emotional or mental issues.
We asked CCPS about this phenomenon.
“Clayton County Public Schools has issued four (4) hand-held metal detectors to [each] of our schools as a means of taking proactive security measures in an effort to keep weapons out of our schools. These detectors are effective devices to conduct randomized security checks while minimizing disruptions to instructional time/school operations and are used at the discretion or need of school leadership.”
But no randomized security check detected the gun this student brought to Jonesboro High School. Students don’t pass through metal detectors when they enter the building.
We also asked CCPS where local kids are getting the guns they bring to school: “It’s a combination of sources consisting of home, friends, gang relationships, as well as random discoveries of discarded weapons,” said spokesman Ronald Jones-Shields. “However, the majority are coming from friends and home….On many occasions, it’s to show off and impress friends,” as well as to scare off bullies or gang members or to assault others.
Dr. Paul Hirschfield, a criminal justice professor at Rutgers University who studies school security and discipline, said, “It could be that they fetishize guns. It could be that some of these kids love guns, and why not bring them to school?” Noting that kids don’t fully understand the consequences of packing a gun on campus, Hirschfield added, “Their brains are not fully developed.” Most kids who bring guns to school to show off are elementary and middle school boys, he said: “The fact that they’re that young, it doesn’t surprise me, because in our society we often fail to keep guns out of the reach of young children.”
How can students protect themselves legally?
According to the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, “We analyzed data from a telephone survey of 5,800 California adolescents aged 12-17 years, which asked questions about gun threats against and self-defense gun use by these young people. We found that these young people were far more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use a gun in self-defense, and most of the reported self-defense gun uses were hostile interactions between armed adolescents. Males, smokers, binge drinkers, those who threatened others and whose parents were less likely to know their whereabouts were more likely both to be threatened with a gun and to use a gun in self-defense.”
Because most teenagers tend to brandish guns to intimidate others (which is also illegal and which can lead to accidental or negligent shootings), it’s important to consider other options for self-defense.
If a student is being bullied or threatened, they should contact a trusted adult like a parent, guardian, or teacher as soon as possible.
Another option is to take martial arts courses like taekwondo, judo, karate, or similar disciplines. These build confidence and strength and teach people how to de-escalate conflicts.
Students also can call an anonymous helpline, 1-877-SAYSTOP (1-877-729-7867), to report weapons, violence, gangs, abuse, and bullying.
In case of immediate danger, a student also can call 911.