You know, boys and girls, when villains and bad guys enter schools (like Sandy Hook Elementary School) and movie theatres (like the Aurora Century 16) and shoot people dead, that’s a really bad thing.
We really feel sad when that happens, and we want to do something to make sure it never happens again. We talk about it a lot on television and radio. We lash out. We pass laws.
Sometimes in our haste to solve the problem, we get just plain silly.
And “silly” is a good word to describe what’s been happening here in America, as well-meaning government officials try to do something—ANYTHING!—to demonstrate their staunch opposition to guns, which have sometimes been used to shoot our citizens.
A case in point: Eight-year-old Joshua Welch of Baltimore was suspended from Park Elementary School in Baltimore after biting off the corners of his Pop-Tart until it looked like a gun. Only seven when he committed the crime, Joshua said that he hadn’t intended to create a gun; but yes, he admitted, it did look like a gun after he had bitten it. The incident drew attention from the public and from the National Rifle Association, which presented Joshua with a free lifetime membership (valued at $550). An attorney is working to have the two-day suspension expunged from Joshua’s permanent record.
But there’s more: Just last month, a six-year-old student at Old Mill Pond Elementary School in Palmer, Massachusetts found himself in hot water after a school bus driver was “frightened” by a toy gun he brought on the bus, in violation of school policy. The school first planned to discipline the first-grader, making him stay for detention and write a letter of apology to the bus driver. A letter was sent home to parents, along with a picture of the toy gun. After reviewing surveillance video, however, the school reversed its decision and informed the family that he would not be disciplined. It seems the weapon in question was a plastic model the size of a quarter.
And then there’s five-year-old Joseph Cruz in Massachusetts. Joseph was threatened with suspension from his school’s after-care program, after crafting a gun out of Lego pieces and pointing it at other students. Joseph’s mother thought that the school had overreacted and mishandled the situation; but the school board stood by its action, calling the kindergartener “disruptive and disrespectful.”
I guess Joseph fared better than kindergartener Jonah Stone. Jonah, a five-year-old at Center School in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, was punished by administrators after bringing a plastic gun to school and showing it to another student. Jonah’s mother planned to appeal, saying that the school was going a little overboard. She told the Boston Globe, “He had no intent of hurting anyone, and he was even sharing.”
In Calvert County, Maryland, a five-year-old boy was suspended from kindergarten for ten days after he brought a cowboy-style cap gun onto the school bus to show his friend. The gun—clearly a toy, with orange-painted tip—was punishable by a ten-day suspension. More than that, though, the little boy was interrogated by school officials for two hours, during which time he was so terrorized that he wet his pants.
And on and on. In Owings, Maryland, an eleven-year-old boy who dreams of serving our country as a Navy SEAL was suspended from school after using the word ‘gun’ in a conversation on board a school bus. Talking about the recent violence at Sandy Hook, the sixth-grader said, “I wish I had a gun to protect everyone from the bad guys.” The Northern Middle School principal and a deputy sheriff interrogated the would-be hero—all without the parents’ permission. The principal’s hard-line defense against incipient school violence was to insist that anyone who even mentioned the word ‘gun’ in school would receive a ten-day suspension. Since the incident occurred just one day before spring break, the principal reduced the suspension to just one day, but insisted that a full ten-day suspension would have been appropriate. In addition, the family had to complete a lengthy four-page questionnaire and submit to a home inspection by a deputy sheriff, even without a warrant.
Last and worst, a three-year-old deaf boy in Grand Island, Nebraska, is being forced by his school district to change the way he signs his name, because his gestures violate their weapons policy. Preschooler Hunter Spanjer’s name is a registered sign with Signing Exact English, a modified form of American Sign Language. It involves extending his index fingers in a way that, according to worried school officials, resembles a gun. A school spokesperson said, “We are working with the parents to come to the best solution we can for the child.” Like what, maybe change his name to Michael?
The war against toy guns continues. Last weekend, Strobridge Elementary School in California organized a trade-in, with students encouraged to turn in toy guns in exchange for a chance to win a prize. Strobridge principal Chris Hill, organizer of the event, explained his belief that toy guns desensitize kids toward gun violence, making it more likely that they’ll turn to crime as adults.
Today, on Father’s Day, the White House tweeted a photo of President Obama and one of the Obama girls playing in a swimming pool with a Nerf Super Soaker toy water pistol.
Yih-Chau Chang, a spokesperson for Responsible Citizens of California, noted that since the President permits his children to shoot toy guns at him, perhaps it’s time for school administrators to ease their no-tolerance restrictions and let kids be kids.