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Gun Case Confirms Stadiums Count as School Grounds

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An Iowa man who was charged with a felony for bringing a firearm onto school grounds lost his appeal after the state Supreme Court decided that a stadium — even one detached from academic facilities — qualifies as school property. 

The Des Moines Register reports that James Mathias was putting flyers on parked cars outside the Brady Athletic Complex, a facility owned by Davenport Community Schools in September 2017. Mathias was approached by a police officer on patrol in the area. The officer noticed Mathias was carrying a gun, for which he also had a carry permit. The officer, unsure of whether the athletic complex — located more than a mile from the school — qualified as school grounds, did not arrest Mathias at the time, instead leading him off of the property. 

The Register reports that after consulting with the County Attorney, Mathias was charged with a class D felony for bringing a firearm on school grounds. He was later convicted. 

Mathias appealed the verdict, arguing that since the complex was not physically adjacent to a school building, it could not qualify as school property. Mathias sought to define “school property” as classroom facilities and the surrounding land. State officials, however, argued that school property is any land owned and used by the school district, a standard that the complex meets.

The Iowa Supreme Court Friday published an opinion finding Mathias’ appeal “without merit,” and said that redefining what constitutes school property could create unintended consequences and practical problems.

“We are doubtful the legislature concluded students involved in school events at the stadium are less worthy of protection than those engaged in school events at the pool,” acting Chief Justice David Wiggins wrote for the majority. “Education is not limited to only that which occurs in the traditional classroom setting. Many schools offer classes that are not in such a setting but still take place on school-owned property — e.g., marching band, weightlifting and conditioning, and shop.”

A concurring opinion by Justice Christopher McDonald sought to define the stadium as a school, rather than school grounds. 

“I respectfully disagree with my colleagues that a school, within the meaning of the statute, is limited to the single building housing classrooms,” he wrote. “I would thus hold the ‘grounds of a school’ includes those parts of the physical plant of a school, including all grounds contiguous thereto, where programming or instruction is delivered to students.”

A dissenting opinion by Justice Edward Mansfield argued that criminal statute failed to give Mathias adequate notice of the illegality of his actions. 

“If my distinguished colleagues cannot agree on the meaning of ‘grounds of a school,’ how is a citizen who wants to comply with the law supposed to know what the term means?” he wrote. 

Justices Brent Appel, Thomas Waterman and Susan Christensen affirmed Wiggins’ opinion, and Waterman and Christensen joined McDonald’s concurring opinion.

 

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