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STIFF PENALTIES AWAIT STUDENTS WHO BEAR ARMS

Utah students who carry weapons to school as protection, to prove they're tough or simply to challenge authority need to be aware of the serious consequences they face because of new federal and state laws.

"Carrying weapons or even facsimiles of weapons is no joking matter," warns Doug Bates, coordinator of school law for the State Board of Education. "Kids don't realize the penalties that could be slapped on them are much more drastic than they could have ever imagined a year ago. It doesn't matter if students don't mean any harm, the penalties are the same."The two teenage boys who reportedly were caught carrying a homemade pipe bomb at Crescent View Middle School in Sandy Monday could be charged with federal criminal charges, be expelled for a year and be found guilty of a Class B misdemeanor in state courts because of recently enacted laws.

As part of a national study on violence in schools, a federal law was passed that became effective in April mandating expulsion from school for one year for any student found carrying a firearm or explosive device. In addition to guns, the federal law specifies bombs, grenades, rockets, missiles and mines. The law does allow school district superintendents some latitude to consider cases on an individual basis - examining intent and circumstances - but the guideline favors a one-year expulsion, said Bates.

To expel a student, school administrators need only to meet a civil court standard of evidence - "determining that it's more likely than not that the student was carrying the weapon," said Bates.

A new Utah state law carries the same penalties for carrying firearms or explosive devices.

"When I was in school, kids carried switchblades or brass knuckles to prove they were tough. But as our society has become progressively more violent, the weapons have become more capable of endangering lives of students. Our lawmakers are responding with tough laws that are welcomed by school officials," said Bates.

Carol Lear, school law specialist for the State Board of Education, compared carrying weapons to school with carrying weapons through an airport security system.

"Sometimes people think it's funny to kid around about carrying a bomb in their luggage. But if they make joking comments, they are harshly penalized.

"If students take a bomb or gun to school as a joke, they will soon discover it is no laughing matter. Penalties are stiff."

Bates and Lear believe it will take awhile for students to become fully aware of new laws. "The media projects the image that guns are fun and sexy. We need to build awareness in the schools about the not-so-fun consequences of firearms," said Lear.