In an absurd display of zero tolerance and anti-gun hysteria, a Palmer, Massachusetts kindergartener was given detention for bringing a Lego gun the size of a quarter onto a school bus. The boy was also forced to write a letter of apology to the bus driver. As much as I’d like to believe that this will instill the child with a healthy disrespect for unwarranted authority, I tragically fear that he will instead be shamed into the submissive acceptance of his incompetent overlords.
The 6-year-old boy was playing with the diminutive toy when another student alerted the bus driver about the impending doom of the G.I. Joe accessory. Acting with all of the tact and logic one expects from a public school employee, the driver then put the children in an exponentially more dangerous situation by bringing the vehicle to an abrupt stop. The Old Mill Pond Elementary School then meted out its punishment to the youngster, presumably feeling as wise as Solomon.
Mieke Crane, the boy’s mother, was not thrilled with the schools draconian response:
“I think they overreacted, totally. I totally do…At six-years-old, I don’t really think he understood the zero-tolerance policy and related it to this as the same.”
This is not the first time that school officials have overreacted in the name of zero-tolerance. As I have written about before at Wondergressive, earlier this year a 7-year-old boy was suspended for biting a Pop-Tart into (supposedly) the shape of a gun. Colorado second grader Alex Evans was suspended in February for throwing an imaginary grenade while playing soldier at recess. First grader Rodney Lynch was actually suspended for making a gun gesture with his hand, pointing it at a fellow classmate and saying “Pow!”
Most disturbingly, Honor Student Savana Redding, then 13, was strip-searched down to her underwear under suspicion of possessing prescription-strength Ibuprofen. The humiliating search proved fruitless. The Supreme Court decided 8-1 that the school officials did indeed violate Redding’s 4th Amendment rights by illegally searching her. However, the Justices ruled that the officials could not personally be held liable for their criminal actions. All in the name of zero-tolerance for both guns and drugs.
Sanity and reason are not the end-goals of these bizarre, one-size-always-fits-all policies. Instead they serve to protect teachers and union officials from parents who might sue for malfeasance or neglect.
Recite the magic incantation of “Procedures were followed!” and no litigious harm shall befall you! As long as these bus drivers, teachers and principals are not held accountable for their misdeeds, the absurdity will only magnify. Only when they are personally liable for their own actions will they (unwillingly) step away from the Cliffs of Insanity.
Stories like this help to reveal the madness that is currently brewing in American public schools. They also help illustrate the growing fear of firearms in the country. The disconcerting part of this trend is that fear is a rational response to something threatening. The current mania sweeping the nation is more properly described as an irrational phobia of guns – hoplophobia to be exact.
Despite highly visible and tragic events like the Sandy Hook shooting, violent crime has actually been dropping for about two decades. The gun murder rate has almost halved in that stretch. The overall non-fatal violent crime rate involving guns dropped 75% between 1993 and 2011.
Yet despite this good news, when polled by PewResearchCenter, a whopping 56% of Americans falsely believed that gun crime had increased over that period. Only 12% correctly responded that crime has plummeted.
As witnessed by the innumerable calls for further gun control post-Sandy Hook, Americans are increasingly frightened of firearms despite the demonstrable reality that the world around them continues to be safer than at any time since the early ’90s. This irrational fear is crescendoing into a palpable phobia for all things ballistic.
This fear of guns is very animistic in nature. In animistic religions, plants, animals, and even inanimate objects are imbued with special powers or spiritual significance. When you look at the irrational hatred of firearms through this lens, the insanity of zero-tolerance begins to come sharply into focus. It doesn’t matter that the Lego gun is the size of a quarter, in the eyes of hoplophobes it is still a gun with magical powers. It doesn’t matter that it’s simply a kid’s Pop-Tart chewed into an ambiguous shape, it looks like a gun, dammit!
The best example of this phobia is poor 7-year-old Rodney Lynch, whom I previously mentioned was suspended for making a gun shape with his hand. He was punished merely for making a representation of a firearm. In more Biblical terms, he was penalized for making a graven image of an unholy object. He had to be punished for this sin, lest he or others repeat the blasphemy.
Another aspect of this irrational fear is that it’s only directed towards everyday citizens, something that doesn’t apply to police officers, who are viewed as a special breed of humans. Famously, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had to walk back gun control legislation because it didn’t exempt police officers from the ban on “high-capacity” magazines.
To clarify the governor’s position, spokesman Matthew Wing said:
“Police officers possessing ammunition clip [sic] with more than seven bullets are not in violation of this law and they never will be, period.”
This special privilege granted to the Boys in Blue seem unwarranted given their behavior.
During the manhunt for former – LAPD officer Christopher Dorner earlier this year, at least seven officers amazingly mistook Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, for the sizable black fugitive. They fired upon the pair and Hernandez was shot twice in the back. Carranza was injured from flying glass and shrapnel from the over two dozen bullet holes that were found in the back of their pickup truck.
Those officers seem like models of restraint.
More recently, Philly.com reported on a surge in police shootings in the City of Brotherly Love:
“The number of shootings by police in 2012 resulting in death or injury climbed to the highest level it’s been in 10 years. Philadelphia police shot 52 suspects last year while responding to calls for reported crimes. Of those shot, 15 people died.”
These shootings represent a 50% increase over 2011. The police department hasn’t provided a reason for the increase and they have refused to release any information concerning the shootings.
Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey supported his department’s use of force, saying:
“I think we have a solid policy and consider it best practice.”
Mistakes were made. Procedures were followed.
Another disgusting aspect of this animism manifests itself in the way it’s reported. Almost invariably the passive voice is used to describe police officers shooting a victim.
Three years ago in Detroit, a 7-year-old girl was fatally shot during a raid in search of a murder suspect. The police fired a flash-bang into the house to disorient its occupants and stormed in. Rather than directly blaming Officer Joseph Weekley for killing the girl, amazingly the Associated Press writes that “A gunshot then went off inside, fatally striking [Aiyana Stanley-Jones] in the head while she slept on the couch.”
A human being didn’t pull the trigger. The gun magically “went off.” The writer then reports that “[Weekley] didn’t prevent his gun from firing” and later that “Police have said his gun accidentally discharged.”
Guns don’t accidentally discharge. The safety was off and someone pulled the trigger when it was pointed at a human being. But in the animistic view of firearms, they possess a will of their own and the supernatural ability to impart it on the world.
The hoplophobia of many Americans today has manifested itself in bizarre and increasingly paranoid ways. Pop-Tarts and Legos are viewed as functional weapons by school officials yet the violence perpetrated by police officers is seemingly justified in the eyes of the press and the public. Malfeasance is explained away by triggers with self-determination.
Guns are tools, just like automobiles or hammers or ladders, and they can be dangerous when they are misused. But they are not magical talismans. They are not to be inherently feared. Rather, like with any dangerous device, criminal users of firearms or cars should be held culpable for their neglect or malicious intent.
People need to be educated about guns and their productive uses and also their potential dangers. By outlawing the mere representation of firearms, it ensures that people will continue to reflexively and irrationally fear them, knee-jerking into draconian and pointless legislation.
More education and less bed-wetting terror is needed to end this hysteria. However, I fear that many people deem guns to be too impure and icky to dare challenge their own animistic preconceptions of them.
For the sake of liberty, I hope I’m wrong.
Evan Matthews is a Guest Contributor to We Are Libertarians.