PUBLIC SAFETY: Guns found inside car at tech center

State law provides no repercussions

Ian Lord

By Ian Lord

Staff Writer

Just
The Facts

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If you want to go hunting after school, go home first.

- Gary Taylor, police chief

ST. ALBANS — St. Albans Police recently discovered a loaded pistol with an additional loaded magazine, two shotguns, a rifle, a machete, two stun guns and other ammunition in a Northwest Technical Center (NWTC) student’s vehicle on school property. Authorities said no laws were broken.

According to police, the loaded handgun was discovered in the student’s car on Monday, Sept. 30 at about 1 p.m. The vehicle was in the technical center’s automotive shop for unspecified work. A teacher searched the glove box looking for registration information and she discovered the .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

The teacher alerted the school resource officer, Cpl. Paul Talley of the St. Albans Police Department, who obtained consent to search the car. He discovered the rest of the arsenal including several rounds of ammunition and shotgun shells, a folding knife and a “Leatherman”-style knife/tool, said police.

The 17-year-old male student who brought the vehicle to the garage and whose name has not been released, attends NWTC, as well as another school district which also can’t be named, said Julie Regimbal, interim superintendent for the Franklin Central Supervisory Union.

While unable to provide details about disciplinary action already taken by both school districts, Regimbal said the schools have punished the student.

“People can be reassured that the proper actions were taken,” she said.

According to the BFA-St. Albans Student Handbook, “The possession of any dangerous or deadly weapon on the property of Bellows Free Academy … without prior permission of the administration is strictly prohibited.”

Furthermore, states the policy, if the dangerous or deadly weapon involved is a gun “the student will be expelled from school for not less than one year.” The policy also states, however, that the school board can modify the expulsion on a case-by-case basis.

The Franklin County State’s Attorney’s Office and police determined that the student who dropped the car off to be worked on within the school’s auto shop had not broken any state laws.

According to state statute, Title 13 VSA 4004, “No person shall knowingly possess a firearm or a dangerous or deadly weapon while within a school building or on a school bus. No person shall knowingly possess a firearm or a dangerous or deadly weapon on any school property with the intent to injure another person.”

Police Chief Gary Taylor said he was surprised that the law doesn’t fully prohibit possession of firearms of any type on school property. He said the evidence uncovered as a result of the investigation did not lead law enforcement officials to believe the student had any intent to harm others.

However, Taylor said the number and types of weapons in the student’s possession were concerning.

“Students are at that age where they’re vulnerable to making rash decisions,” he said.

Regimbal said she understands why the law is written the way it is. She said while it’s important not to judge a person’s mindset and thoughts, based only on what they possess, the situation on school property had to be treated with caution.

“We can’t know the intent of anyone,” Regimbal said. She added that the situation called for a serious response and consideration.

Taylor said the law as it stands now was written to accommodate students who hunt before or after they attend classes, but in his mind, that isn’t worth the potential safety concerns.

“If you want to go hunting after school, go home first,” Taylor said.

Regimbal said the state law was clearly written for students who carry hunting rifles in a gun rack in their vehicle, but in today’s culture, more safety measures need to be taken.

“That’s clearly what the intent of the law was,” she said. “But you have to err on the side of caution.”

From the moment the loaded pistol was discovered, through the subsequent investigation, Regimbal said the school staff, school resource officer and the responding law enforcement personnel all handled the situation responsibly. She specifically said having Talley, the SRO, on hand was reassuring during situations like this one, but also for the  preventative work the officer does with students.

The school district’s principals and assistant principals, without directly addressing the Monday, Sept. 30 incident, have spoken with students about the seriousness of weapon violations, Regimbal said.

“Our number one aim is to keep kids safe at all times,” she said.