Back in June of 2015, Andrew Josiah Goslin was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of possessing a weapon on school grounds. He was given a year probation, but chose to appeal the conviction. The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled in a 2-1 decision to uphold Goslin’s conviction. At issue was the exemption under PA state law that states: a weapon is permitted on school property if it “is possessed and used in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity or course or is possessed for other lawful purpose.” It is worth noting that Goslin had placed the knife on a table and his son was actually the one caught possessing it. A small bit of carelessness that muddies the water somewhat.
In appealing his conviction, Goslin argued he had his knife for a lawful purpose because he is a carpenter. He said he carries the knife with him daily.
Anderson (prosecuting attorney) said Goslin’s case was the first time a state appellate court had to interpret the language of “lawful purpose.”
According to state law, a weapon is permitted on school property if it “is possessed and used in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity or course or is possessed for other lawful purpose.”
“That language has been out there since the law was passed (in 1980),” Anderson said Tuesday. “It never came out that a court had to interpret it before, either because the defendant didn’t raise that defense or they just didn’t appeal the ruling.”
Two members of the 3 judge panel ruled to uphold the conviction, with 1 dissent. It seems to me if any judge were to dissent on the basis that a law is vague, it ought to default in favor of the accused as a layman should not be expected to understand vagaries in the law on which judges cannot agree. Goslin’s legal team feels the same way.
Chris Dreisbach, who represented Goslin at his bench trial, said the law is poorly written.
“A person shouldn’t have to guess whether or not a criminal statue applies to them,” Dreisbach said Tuesday. “It was confusing enough in this case to warrant a dissenting opinion.”
The Superior Court issued a split decision, with Judge Sallie Updyke Mundy and Senior Judge Eugene B. Strassburger III upholding the lower court’s ruling. Judge Alice Beck Dubow filed a dissenting opinion.
In denying Goslin’s appeal, the Superior Court ruled a weapon on school property can only be considered lawful if it is related to school.
Lancaster Assistant District Attorney Anderson disagrees, and argues that allowing the knife would set a dangerous precedent for guns.
“Other lawful purpose does not mean any lawful purpose at all,” Anderson said. “In my brief that I filed with the court, I argued that if you interpret it that way, if I plan on going to the range after I drop my kid off at school, I can bring my gun into the school.”
Don’t tell DA Anderson, but TN actually has a gun exemption for that very situation. One is legally allowed to have a weapon on school grounds in a private vehicle during pick-up and drop-off provided that the weapon is not being handled or removed from the vehicle. Blood is not running in school parking lots. Your concern is invalid.
Although Goslin received probation which has since expired, there is a larger philosophical issue at play.
Goslin, who represented himself in front of the Superior Court, said he will consider appealing to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“I have a moral responsibility,” he said Tuesday. “It’s not about me anymore. This case will be used as a precedent to either further harass law-abiding citizens such as myself.
“The law was meant to serve the people. The people were not meant to serve the law. It’s a great perversion.”
I couldn’t agree more.