Rich Lowry: The littlest perps
The nation’s elementary schools are overrun by small-minded and unreasonable people, prone to hysterics, who can’t distinguish between make-believe and reality. They are called school administrators.
In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, they have been punishing little children for making gun-like gestures with their fingers and other harmless horseplay. The people who run our schools must have been too busy brushing up on their “zero tolerance” policies to notice that Newtown was perpetrated with an AR-15, not with a toy or with a finger. We expect 5-year-olds to be childish. What’s the excuse for the people running our schools?
Five-year-old Joseph Cruz brandished a gun made out of Legos in his day-care program while, in the words of the Barnstable Public School District in Hyannis, Mass., “simulating the sound of gunfire.” For a layman, that’s called saying “pow.” Cruz got a stiff warning for “using daycare toys inappropriately.”
A 5-year-old girl was suspended from kindergarten at Mount Carmel Area Elementary School in Northumberland County, Pa., after “threatening” to shoot classmates with her pink Hello Kitty gun that fires soapy bubbles. A mandatory psychological evaluation found, according to a news report, “that the girl did not represent any threat to others.” Whew.
White Marsh Elementary in Maryland suspended two first-graders for playing cops and robbers on the playground. In true 21st-century fashion, the school board said it was forbidden from giving out more information “due to confidentially requirements under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”
Melody Valentin, a fifth-grader, was reprimanded for accidentally bringing a paper gun to her school in Philadelphia. When another kid saw her throwing it away, she was reported to the authorities. Perhaps she should have sought out a paper-gun buyback program rather than disposing of it so carelessly in a trash can, where it could have been found and used by someone else? “He yelled at me,” Melody said of an administrator, “and I kept telling him it was a paper gun.” Melody’s argument would seem utterly unassailable, “but he wouldn’t listen.”
An 8-year-old in Prince William County, Va., was suspended for firing back with an imaginary gun after a friend shot him with an imaginary bow and arrow. Evidently, nothing happened to the other kid. This points to a disturbing “bow and arrow” loophole that could conceivably accommodate everything from imaginary poison darts to make-believe medieval siege weapons.
The Al Capone of the zero-tolerance offenders is the daring second-grader in Anne Arundel County, Md., who chewed his strawberry breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun and then brazenly pointed it at a classmate. Park Elementary school suspended him for two days. The child’s father says he really pointed it at the ceiling, but apparently hasn’t stopped to consider the mayhem that would ensue in a room full of children if ceiling tiles were shot out with a gun-shaped strawberry pastry.
Who defends this foolish lack of proportion? The American Association of School Administrators. Its executive director, Dan Domenech, told USA Today: “Parents have to be aware that talking about guns or using your fingers to point like a gun is no longer tolerable or prudent.” Why, pray tell? School shooters tend to be disturbed young men. In no case has a shooter ever been an adorable 5-year-old child.
In the grips of a strange mania, school administrators believe that any symbolic representation of a gun, no matter how innocent, is all but indistinguishable from a real gun. This is not a mistake that gun owners make. I have never known the National Rifle Association magazine to feature an article on how to form your finger into the shape of a firearm. The fake-finger gun doesn’t do much for the average sportsman. It can’t bring down a deer, and doesn’t exactly light up the gun range.
No matter. We don’t have common sense; we have rules. We don’t have judgment; we have bureaucratic procedure. Too often, our grown-ups are the ones desperately in need of adult supervision.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.