Flying in the face of zero tolerance

The previous post about the kid who was forbidden to wear a hat with plastic toy soldiers on it illustrates a problem which won't go away. Although the principal announced he would try to change the policy to allow images of guns if carried by soldiers and police officers, it is not entirely clear that the policy is even his to change. Many schools have implemented so-called "zero tolerance for guns" policies, the goal of which is not merely to ban actual guns, but to indoctrinate children along Orwellian lines. Not only are toy guns banned, but so are images of guns, and the school in the news recently is only one example. At a Staten Island school earlier this year, a student was disciplined for having a LEGO policeman and a tiny gun:

Just how little tolerance is zero tolerance? A Staten Island fourth-grader was reprimanded and almost suspended yesterday when the principal spotted him playing with a LEGO policeman and a two-inch-long toy gun during lunch, the Advance reports.

Under the city's no-tolerance policy regarding guns in schools, PS 52 Principal Evelyn Matroianni brought 9-year-old Patrick Timoney to her office and called his mother to say the boy might be suspended for carrying the miniature toy gun to school, pending the approval of the Department of Education's security administrator. When contacted, the administrator reportedly said the toy should be confiscated and returned to the boy's parents, however no other punishment would be necessary.

"It's crazy," the boy's mother, Laura Timoney, told the paper. "He's missing class time, all for silly toys. The boys are just trying to relax. If there's a real threat, why not call the Police Department?" She noted that another child had brought an action figure that was carrying an ax, but only her son was punished. "When are we going to take responsibility for common sense and logic?" In 2007, a New Jersey 7-year-old was suspended when he drew a picture of gun.

The "picture" shows silly stick figures and the gun (which the student said was supposed to be a water pistol) is barely recognizable.

In 2002 in Barstow, California, pretending hands were guns was banned:

A school in Barstow, California has banned the students from playing cops and robbers on school grounds. The game involves making gun shapes with one's hands and pretending to shoot criminals, played by other kids, also with pretend hand shape guns.
In another incident, a pre-schooler was disciplined for talking about guns.

I'm surprised that lawyers haven't gotten involved in this "zero tolerance for guns" business, because it would probably not withstand judicial scrutiny. The idea that under "zero tolerance" students can be disciplined merely for talking about guns would mean that children could not be taught about the Second Amendment, nor would they be allowed to study firearms technology (both of which have helped ensure this country's freedom.)

From where did this "zero tolerance" madness arise? The starting point appears to have been the "Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994.":

The "Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994" requires a one-year expulsion of any student who brings a firearm to any elementary or secondary school that receives federal funding. The Act allows "the chief administering officer of such local educational agency to modify such expulsion requirement for a student on a case-by-case basis."

Many public schools have taken the liberty to expand this policy to include toy guns, food items being used as toy guns, and children pointing their fingers like guns. Most would agree that this is ludricious, with the exception of many schoolteachers and policymakers whose melodramatic paranoia of anything gun-like is beyond any semblance of reason.

This reefer-madness mentality about firearms is a major contributing factor to the total lack of education about the Second Amendment in our nation's schools. Plus, it creates a mysterious, forbidden mystique about firearms that generates a natural curiosity among young people. A curiosity that puts some at risk as they may not have had any education about firearms or firearm safety and are certainly not going to get such an education at school.

The Act seems to have been used as an opportunity to implement John Lennon "Imagine" style indoctrination against any thoughts or images which might be considered "violent" -- including even a picture of the Crucifixion.

So "zero tolerance" has shifted from prohibiting guns in schools to a stated goal of "building a zero-tolerance culture":

Building a zero-tolerance culture to guns

To solve the problem of guns in schools, we must acknowledge a gun culture exists and seek solutions.

"Gun culture"? Whatever might the author (executive director of CrimeStoppers of Memphis and Shelby County and a former Memphis police director) mean by that?

According to the Wikipedia entry on the subject, the term means different things in different countries, but in the United States it refers to people who keep firearms legally for self-defense (and who believe it is their Second Amendment right), while in other countries it refers to criminals:

The gun culture is a culture shared by people in the gun politics debate, generally those who advocate preserving gun rights and who are generally against more gun control. In the United States, the term is used solely to identify gun advocates who are legitimate and legal owners and users of guns, using guns for self defense, sporting uses (hunting), and recreational uses (target shooting). By contrast, the term is used differently in the UK and Australia, where it refers to a growing use and ownership of guns by criminals.
Solely? Really?

The Memphis CrimeStoppers director's choice of that term (in a manner denoting criminal culture) makes me wondering whether the goal is to further a rhetorical shift in terminology by conflating law abiding gun owners with the criminal class.

I'm also wondering whether the schools are doing the same thing -- and using the Gun-Free Schools Act as an excuse.

What I don't know is whether the individual schools set their own policies or whether they are dictated by elected people at the School Board level. To return to the latest example involving the boy with the soldiers on his hat, the principal stated that he wanted to revise the policy. But is it his to revise? Or does he have to go through the School Board? What he has the power to do is not entirely clear from the news reports; according to this one he says he "will work to change the policy" (which sounds as if it isn't entirely up to him):

COVENTRY, R.I. (AP) - The superintendent of a Rhode Island school district that banned a second-grader's homemade hat because it displayed toy soldiers with tiny guns said Saturday he will work to change the policy to allow such apparel.

Ken Di Pietro said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the no-weapons policy shouldn't limit student expression, especially when students are depicting "tools of a profession or service," such as the military or police.

"The event exposed how a policy meant to ensure safe environments for students can become restrictive and can present an image counter to the work of our schools to promote patriotism and democracy," Di Pietro said.

The way he talks about how "the event" "exposed" how "a policy" can present "an image counter to the work" of the schools, you certainly wouldn't think he decided on his own to ban the hat. But regardless of whether he can unilaterally change school policy, let's suppose he accomplishes the revision he seeks so that students may depict "tools of a profession or service such as the military or police."

Doesn't that amount to indoctrinating children to believe that guns are only OK (and should only be allowed) when they are in the hands of the police and the military? Is that not contrary to the purpose of the Second Amendment and the founding of this country? If, as Di Pietro says, it is "the work of our schools to promote patriotism and democracy," such a bias would do just the opposite.

Moreover, only allowing gun images that are in the hands of police and the military would effectively prohibit a student from bringing the Michigan State Flag to school, because this state's flag clearly depicts an ordinary settler holding a gun in one hand as he waves with the other, beneath the slogan "TUEBOR" ("I will defend.")


Here's a closeup of the seal:


The meaning is not disputed:

The state coat of arms depicts a light blue shield, upon which the sun rises over a lake and peninsula, and a man with raised hand and holding a long gun representing peace and the ability to defend his rights.
Not only is that gun image a symbol of the gun culture, but the flag itself flies squarely in the face of zero tolerance!

Obviously, it's not safe for any school.

UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post, and a warm welcome to all.

Comments welcome, agree or disagree.

posted by Eric on 06.21.10 at 11:59 AM


I understand why people can be politically anti-gun, but I've never understood why some people treat guns the way a Pharisee would treat a leper. It's almost as if they think that contact, of any form, with guns renders them tainted and "impure".

My sister in law doesn't even want to SEE a gun. I was going to show one of mine to my brother and she cut us off by saying "No! Not while I'm around. I don't want to see it. I don't want to be in the same room as it.". She reacted to seeing a gun the way most people would react to the idea of checking out some child-porn - with visceral disgust and aversion. I deferred to my brother, who wanted to respect his wifes wishes, but it really hit me the way she reacted.

libarbarian   ·  June 21, 2010 6:35 PM

Does you SIL call the police in emergencies?

M. Simon   ·  June 21, 2010 9:44 PM


It's called "hoplophobia"

alphonse   ·  June 22, 2010 10:41 AM

....and in spite of the best efforts of these vapid, intellectually stunted, lefto-bigots, these kids, who are forbidden to even think about guns at school, go home and play Call of Duty for hours on end.

In the first 10 seconds after they press the 'start' button, all of the indoctrination by these Elanor Smeal wannabees are wiped-away.


Mark Turner   ·  June 22, 2010 11:06 AM

I don't oppose "zero tolerance" policies per se. What is terribly, terribly wrong about them is the draconian punishments that are mandated by them. Whatever happened to detention? Expulsion or extended suspension for a first offense is unconscionable stupidity.

This kind of punishment can be reversed, however. But there is only one proven way to do it: the parents whose children are victimized need to get a lawyer and sue for millions, preferrably hundreds of millions.

I generally deplore the litigiousness of American society, but in this case I encourage it, since it has been shown to work. Multi-million-dollar lawsuits get the attention of tin-pot dictator principals and school boards, and before you know it a completely inappropriate expulsion has been reduced to a week's detention, or something more much appropriate to the crime committed.

Chris   ·  June 22, 2010 11:15 AM


Dandapani   ·  June 22, 2010 11:30 AM


Dandapani   ·  June 22, 2010 11:30 AM

Someone needs to sue the piss out of these schools.

mishu   ·  June 22, 2010 11:36 AM

The idea that under "zero tolerance" students can be disciplined merely for talking about guns would mean that children could not be taught about the Second Amendment, nor would they be allowed to study firearms technology (both of which have helped ensure this country's freedom.)

You say that like it's a bad thing.

The Powers That Be   ·  June 22, 2010 11:39 AM

Suing the school board isn't the issue. It ought to be suing the specific individuals responsible and getting an injunction to prevent the school board and or it's insurance carrier from defending the specific individuals. The settlement offer should include that the individual(s) sued should resign from their position and never seek government employment again (or at least for the length of time a judgment is valid). Unfortunately litigation is expensive in these cases for the plaintiffs and the school boards know it.

cubanbob   ·  June 22, 2010 11:43 AM

We need to implement our own program: Zero Tolerance for Stupidity. Principal Evelyn Matroianni should be fired. If the Superintendent doesn’t do that, he/she should be fired. If the school board doesn’t do that, replace them, and then clean house. When someone charges that this is a purge, answer “Yes. It is. We’re purging the system of everyone who’s too stupid to contribute.”

John W.   ·  June 22, 2010 11:59 AM

When the discussion regarding the hat was focusing on "any weapon" and not just guns (as was the case in earlier articles), i.e. the principal wanted a de-weaponized culture, including banning images of any weapons, I really wanted to be there at the press conference and ask him if he had a dollar bill in his wallet. See those 13 arrows in the eagle's claw?

Shelgeyr   ·  June 22, 2010 12:05 PM

We spent a couple days with friends in Switzerland recently. A -- let's see -- urbane? sophisticated? -- very financially well off couple. He is an entrepreneur, she a COO of a large Zurich company (and gorgeous, besides).

I brought up Swiss guns ... :-)

And in dead seriousness was informed they are both crack shots. And yes, there were guns in the house.

Now there is a gun culture. ;-)
No freak.

JAL   ·  June 22, 2010 12:22 PM

The gun issue and zero tolerance are only a small part of the wider War on Children waged by the Left, which in turn is just a small part of its near autistic rage against the fact that life is unpredictable and chaotic. Is it any wonder they advocate absolute control of childhood - from contraception, abortion, early daycare, education systems that indoctrinate rather than teach, systems that crush the natural exuberance of boys and young men (in particular) rather than channelling it towards learning the means to self-reliance and the defense of one's rights? Is anyone surprised by the desire among left-wing educators to destroy the individual relationships that define us - as in the recent article in the NYT about banning best friends?
It doesn't bode well...

HalifaxCB   ·  June 22, 2010 12:28 PM

Great story!!! Thank you for posting it.

eddie   ·  June 22, 2010 12:59 PM

Zero tolerance was sold to teachers as protection against charges of racism. If you treat a white kid with a butter knife the same way you treat a black kid with a three-inch box cutter, you can’t be called a racist. It took off from there into ridiculous results because the logic was flawed to begin with—plus it didn’t work. They still called white teachers racists anyway, no matter what we did.

A Retired Teacher.

ken   ·  June 22, 2010 1:24 PM

Zero tolerance systems seize up. All of them ...

sux2bme   ·  June 22, 2010 1:45 PM

When I was in high school (during the 80's, in a small town where I still live), I and most of my friends usually had one or two guns in our vehicles (in plain view, ON school property) in case we wanted to go hunting after school. I even once gave a demonstration on field-stripping an AR-15 for speech class.

And what kind of horrible violence must occur constantly in such a licentious wild west atmosphere?

The last murder in this county was almost 50 years ago and THAT was committed by someone driving through.

Crime/violence is a people problem, not an inanimate object problem.

irright   ·  June 22, 2010 3:11 PM

"Zero tolerance" policies are simply for protection and safety: the protection of teachers and administrators from having to be responsible for and defend their decissions and the safety of their jobs and careers. Rather than having to explain that while both child A and child B brought pocket knives to school, that since child A has a history of behavioural problems and child B is a good student who has never been in trouble that child A was suspended while child B was repremanded, all the principal has to say is "zero tolerance: my hands are tied" and send them both home.

submandave   ·  June 22, 2010 4:02 PM

Shelgeyr: The Swiss not only have a right to keep and bear arms, they have an obligation.

Walter Sobchak   ·  June 22, 2010 4:43 PM

Submandave: "Zero tolerance" also helps protect school authorities against pressure to make exceptions - sometimes for the "deserving", but very often for the powerful or influential. When the banker's son and the football star get let off easy, the effectiveness of the rule crumbles.

The stupidity decried above has nothing to do with "zero tolerance"; it's the result of school authorities arbitrarily extending rules to suit themselves.

A "zero tolerance" rule against firearms is one thing. A rule against drawing a picture of a gun is another - and absurd.

Rich Rostrom   ·  June 22, 2010 4:44 PM

Kids should bring a newspaper to school. When there is some shooting and a picture of a gun, the student should make sure it is folded so the picture is prominent.

Then, watch the administrators' heads implode.

Old Easterner   ·  June 22, 2010 4:52 PM

I like the fact that in my kids' school yearbook there's probably a dozen pictures of kids with guns and dead animals. I imagine just viewing the yearbook would give some of those folks a heart attack.

Texan   ·  June 22, 2010 6:26 PM

"Gun laws" only limit the activities of law-abiding citizens, and inhibit their ability to protect themselves from scofflaws, scoundrels and reprobates.

And that's just the elected officials...

Cosmo   ·  June 22, 2010 6:57 PM

Zero tolerance is a great thing. It means the administrators don't have to think, don't have to make judgements that they might be held accountable for.

So we could easily replace them with robots. Or first-year grad students.

About those troublesome symbols: I wonder if La Raza would be allowed to bring this flag onto campus:

La Raza
"The official national symbol of MEChA is an eagle holding a machete-like weapon and a stick of dynamite."

ZZMike   ·  June 22, 2010 11:42 PM

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