The Pennsylvania Superior Court in Commonwealth v. Goslin held that the language in the Possession of a Weapon on School Property statute, though broad, is unambiguous. Thus, the statute does not prohibit weapons on school property so long as the weapon is possessed for a lawful purpose. This is reminiscent of the open carry laws in Pennsylvania. Just because something may be legal doesn’t mean it’s safe to do it – law enforcement may second guess your lawful purpose, arrest you, and effectively force you to spend lots of money on us. (Don’t be stupid).
Mr. Goslin attended a school conference to discuss his son’s suspension and came directly from his work. Being a carpenter, Mr. Goslin arrived to the school with a 3-4 inch pocketknife that he used for “work, sharpening pencils, whittling sticks and opening cans of tuna.” During the conference, Mr. Goslin removed the knife from his pocket and placed it on the table asking if he was going to be arrested for bringing the knife he uses for work to the school. Really, really stupid. And just like that, Mr. Goslin was charged with Possession of a Weapon on School Property.
A bench trial was held on June 2, 2015 and the trial court rejected Mr. Goslin’s defense that he had the pocketknife on the school property for “other lawful purpose[s].” The court found him guilty and sentenced him to one year probation.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court heard argument on whether the trial court abused its discretion, committed an error of law, or violated Goslin’s constitutional rights when it found that the defense Goslin raised did not apply. In this case, the language of the statute at issue provides, “it shall be a defense that the weapon is possessed and used in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity or course or is possessed for other lawful purpose” 18 Pa.C.S. 912(a).
When a Court is faced with an issue of statutory interpretation, the Court shall interpret the statute through the intention of the Legislature. If the language of a statute is clear, the Court will give the words their plain and ordinary meaning.
The Superior Court concluded that the statute provides for two separate defenses: possessing a weapon on school property in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity as well as possessing a weapon for other lawful purposes. While “other lawful purpose” is broad, the defense is not ambiguous. This defense provides for distinct and separate purposes from supervised school activities so long as it is a purpose that is allowed or permitted by law.
The Superior Court concluded that Mr. Goslin possessed his pocketknife on school property for a “other lawful purpose” by using it for work-related purposes.