Return to common sense

'Zero-tolerance' legislation too often skimps on plain understanding

Readers from another generation may recall a time when bringing a rifle to school caused no alarm – a time when children, particularly in rural areas, would go hunting before or after school.

Some may remember that up to the early 1980s high schools across the country – even in gun-shy Northeastern states – offered “rifle clubs” for students to learn gun safety and marksmanship skills.

Those days, of course, are long gone and likely never to return. Nearly every school district in America has created “zero tolerance” policies and “gun-free zones” in light of the horrific school shootings that started occurring in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, some administrators and authorities carrying out the rules appear to have also adopted zero tolerance for common sense. Just look at the numerous cases nationwide where children have been expelled – and even arrested – for possessing toys or items that “resemble” weapons or simply using their hands to make a gun gesture.

Who can forget the 7-year-old Baltimore boy suspended for biting a toaster pastry into the shape of a gun? Or the 5-year-old Pennsylvania girl suspended for talking – talking – about playing with a Hello Kitty bubble blower gun? Or the 14-year-old West Virginia boy suspended and arrested for refusing to remove a T-shirt promoting Second Amendment rights?

Closer to home is the case of a suburban Atlanta teen who faced felony charges after school officials found knives in a tackle box locked in his car trunk.

“I go fishing once a week, sometimes twice a week,” said the boy, 17-year-old Cody Chitwood. “I just forgot that it was in there.”

These are not the dangerous children that school-violence laws are supposed to address.

Thankfully, lawmakers nationwide are seeking to put an end to such heavy-handed nonsense by drafting laws to prevent schools from punishing students for harmless behavior.

One such bill, the Common Sense Zero Tolerance Act, drafted by Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern, would ban action against such things as toy weapons (including those made from plastic or wood building blocks), “imaginary” weapons, wearing clothes that promote Second Amendment rights and, specifically, “brandishing a pastry or other food which is partially consumed in such a way that the remnant resembles a weapon.” In Maryland (home of the now-famous Pop Tart Pistol), State Sen. J.B. Jennings has introduced similar legislation.

The Obama administration’s Justice Department and Education Department also are pushing the nation’s schools to abandon what it describes as overzealous discipline policies. That’s great. But a letter the departments sent to school districts recently focuses inordinately on student race instead of the nature of the alleged offense.

“In our investigations, we have found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students,” the letter stated. “In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.”

Before injecting race into the discipline debate, let’s craft better solutions for all students.

Even in this day of political correctness and nannyism, no student – regardless of race – should face disciplinary or criminal charges for possessing a Lego gun or brandishing an L-shaped pastry.

Even though children today aren’t exposed to real guns like their parents and grandparents were, can’t we still at least let them pretend and play innocuously without prosecution?

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