Folks! Here’s my piece that ran in today’s NY Daily News, the paper where I worked for 14 years. – L.
Guns Guns and children donâ€™t go together, right?
Well, actually, often they do. Chances are if you have a kid or ever were one (especially if there was a Y chromosome involved), at some point you played cops vs. robbers, aliens vs. predators, SEALs vs. Osama â€” some good guy/bad guy confrontation.
Often it involved a toy gun made out of anything: sticks, Play-Doh, pizza. And it was pretty obvious to everyone that there was nothing lethal going on.
Unfortunately, that point is no longer obvious to many of the people in charge of our schools.
Over just the past few weeks, around the country, children as young as 5 have been reprimanded and even suspended for a Hello Kitty bubble gun, a Legos gun and a gun made out of a sheet of paper with one quarter cut out, so it resembled a very chunky â€œL.â€
The Hello Kitty gun was a particularly bizarre case, in that it not only involved bubbles â€” how terrifying â€” but also hearsay. The girl, age 5, didnâ€™t actually bring the â€œweaponâ€ to her Pennsylvania kindergarten. She simply told another girl there that she owned a bubble gun and was going to shoot her with it.
For this she received a suspension of 10 days, later reduced to two, thanks, I guess, to the lawyer her parents engaged. This lawyer was quoted as reassuring the school that the girl â€œhad never fired a real gun.â€
Which is sort of like having to reassure the school that although a kindergartner was spotted pretending to drive, she had never actually hot-wired a car.
The Legos drama, which unfolded about a week ago in Massachusetts, concerned yet another 5-year-old (what an out-of-control generation!) who made the blocks into what he called a gun. Looked pretty lame to me.
His parents were told that if he ever does this again, he will be given the apparently standard 10-day suspension for imaginary weapons possession. As the principal explained, â€œWhile someone might think making a Lego gun is just an action of a 5-year-oldâ€ â€” gee, who could possibly think that? â€” â€œto other 5-year-olds, that might be a scary experience.â€
Seeing your friend disappear for 10 days because he was playing â€œwrongâ€ might be a scary experience, too. But no matter. We must keep our children safe! Which explains (if thatâ€™s the right word) the third incident, involving a fifth grader who brought that L-shaped piece of paper to school. According to a report in the Daily News last week, â€œA classmate saw the â€˜gunâ€™ and reported it to the school official.â€
Now, itâ€™s pretty rotten for a kid to report another kid for a piece of paper. But the fact that the school official didnâ€™t send the snitch straight back to class is evidence that deliberate obtuseness is now the default position of school administrators.
How on earth can you treat a piece of paper as if it were truly dangerous? Itâ€™s easy once you have been trained to ignore your common sense and overreact to even the most minuscule, laughable threats.
Which is exactly what our society has decided is prudent.
If youâ€™ve seen old ladies being patted down at the airport, youâ€™ve watched this obtuseness in action: TSA workers are not allowed to use their brains to consider the incredible unlikelihood that a diabetic grandma in a wheelchair is a terrorist. But that doesnâ€™t matter: brains off, fear on.
And when, in the wake of Sandy Hook, schools implemented new â€œsafetyâ€ rules like parents having to call 24 hours in advance of a visit, or drop off their car keys in the office upon entering â€” those donâ€™t really make anyone safer, either.
In panic mode, people overreact. Stay in panic mode every day since Columbine, or 9/11, or Sandy Hook, and overreaction becomes a way of life. And the home of the brave becomes the home of, well, â€œYikes! An L-shaped piece of paper!â€ – L.S.