Florida teens facing felonies for bringing BB gun on elementary school property

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A 14-year-old and his 18-year-old cousin were arrested in Brandon, Florida this week after an elementary school principal reported to police that two men were on campus and one of them was armed with what appeared to be a rifle. When Hillsborough County deputies arrived, they discovered the two teens on the east side of the elementary school, and took them into custody on a felony charge of possessing a firearm on school property.


“The start of a new school year is just around the corner, and this is my stark warning, guns on campus are no laughing matter. The safety of our students and staff is our top priority, and we take any reports of firearms seriously,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said. “Those who make threats or bring guns onto school grounds will face swift and decisive action. We will not hesitate to make arrests to ensure a secure and nurturing learning environment for all.”

Both suspects face multiple charges including exhibition of a weapon on school property and trespassing on school property with a weapon.

According to the 14-year-old’s mother, the teens weren’t trying to scare or intimidate anyone. Instead, she says her son and nephew were just on the way to a nearby field to do some plinking with a BB gun.

Alacia Williams got the call Tuesday.

“You can only imagine, as a mother what was going through my mind,” she said.” I literally–my heart dropped.”

That call was from a deputy telling her that her 14-year-old son and 18-year-old nephew were being detained for having a BB gun on school property.

“I begged them; I was like, ‘they didn’t mean any harm, they weren’t up to no good, they weren’t doing anything wrong, please don’t take them to jail,”‘ Williams recalled.

Williams says it was all a misunderstanding.

“Normally they go in the backyard and we have sheet metal targets they usually shoot at back there,” she said. “When I asked them, they said ‘we just got bored in the backyard and we know there’s a field down the street.”

The walk from their house to the field was only a couple of blocks, but the elementary school sits right in the middle.

Williams doesn’t disagree with how Hillsborough County deputies responded, but she says felony charges were a step too far.

“I spoke with [the teens] and asked them, ‘were you aware that other people could have taken that the wrong way, like other people could have looked at the BB gun and not known it was a BB gun,’” she said. “It didn’t dawn on them; they’re kids.”


I don’t disagree with how the deputies responded either. If they get a call about a guy with a gun on campus, I think we’d all expect a major police response. But once it was determined that the teens posed no threat, and that the firearm wasn’t actually a firearm at all, was an arrest on felony charges really necessary, especially given that, as WFLA-TV reports, the teens appear to have a strong defense.

The teens tell 8 On Your Side the only time they stepped off of the sidewalk was when deputies asked them to get on the ground.

Hillsborough County Public Schools tells 8 On Your Side the sidewalk is public property, but the grass is not.

When asked to confirm the teens got onto the grass on the school’s property, an agency representative said “our deputies responded to a call reporting two suspects on the school’s property.”

Then they pointed us to the Federal Gun-Free School Zone Act, a law that prohibits someone who doesn’t have a concealed carry permit from possessing a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school.

According to the Florida Department of Education, “because a BB gun shoots a projectile powered by air, not by an explosive charge, it would not be classified as a firearm according to federal definition.”

The department also says BB guns do not meet the Florida Statute definition of weapon.

Section 790.001(13), F.S. reads “”Weapon” means any dirk, knife, metallic knuckles, slungshot, billie, tear gas gun, chemical weapon or device, or other deadly weapon except a firearm or a common pocketknife, plastic knife, or blunt-bladed table knife.”


Did the teens do something dumb? Absolutely. Even a 14-year-old should know that bringing a BB gun that resembles a rifle anywhere near the grounds of an elementary school is likely going to lead to some frantic and frightened phone calls to police. Is that worthy of an arrest or felony charges? Not in my opinion. This is one of those situations where a stern warning should suffice without the need to haul these kids into the criminal justice system for what was ultimately a dumb mistake and a lack of awareness, not any real criminal intent.

Whether or not the Hillsborough County State Attorney agrees is still an open question, but I think it would be an injustice to bring these felony charges forward. Mistakes were clearly made, but I still believe that the adults in the criminal justice system would be making a mistake of their own by prosecuting the teens for their outing with a BB gun.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member