Lawyers, Guns and Kindergarten

Not much new under the sun.

Today’s paper had an article from AP about 5 and 6 year old kids at school  playing with  Hello Kitty bubble guns or using their finger as a gun while playing cops and robbers, and other such pretend gun activities, which led to the children getting into big trouble, even being suspended. Which of course led to parents getting lawyers, etc.

Now, I know, especially post Sandy Hook, school administrators are understandably sensitive about kids imitating guns in a school setting, but I do think a little perspective is called for.  I’m not opposed to discouraging gun play at school, but suspending kindergarteners because of a “zero tolerance” policy seems ridiculous. Zero tolerance for hitting or biting – I could get behind that. But for pointing your finger and going “pow”?Especially because the whole issue of kids and pretend guns isn’t new, or likely to go away, as my column from 12 years ago shows:

Finger Pointing

February 2001

From fried food to Freud, it’s amazing the way one idea leads to another. My musing started after I read one of those easily missed items in the newspaper last week

AP, Jonesboro Ark. “An eight-year-old boy was suspended from school for three days after pointing a breaded chicken finger at a teacher and saying ‘Pow, pow, pow.’ The incident apparently violated the Jonesboro School Districts zero-tolerance policy against weapons.”

Now, despite my sympathy for educators at their wits end trying to ensure our children’s safety in a world that has seen terrible acts of violence in our public schools, I still thought this was a bit of an overreaction. I was immediately reminded of a Buddhist saying, “The doctrine is like a finger pointing at the moon. One must take care not to mistake the finger for the moon.”

Or in this case, the chicken finger for a gun.

But on further reflection, perhaps I rush to judgment, not knowing all the facts.

Maybe the chicken finger was shaped like a gun, honestly surprising and scaring the teacher. I would have thought the breading would have been a dead give away, but maybe the teacher figured it was an elaborate camouflage, something the eight-year-old cooked up (pardon the pun) to avoid detection so that he could smuggle the gun into school.

And while it’s easy for me to poo-poo this potential poultry pistol, I might feel differently if I was the one staring down the down the greasy muzzle of a loaded chicken finger.

I can’t stop thinking about this.  Would the boy still have been suspended if he just pointed the chicken finger at the teacher, but didn’t say “Pow, pow, pow”?  That doesn’t seem quite as threatening, but zero tolerance is zero tolerance.

Does the school have rules to cover such contingencies? Say three days for pointing a chicken finger and vocalizing,  two days for menacing but not vocalizing, and one day for carrying a concealed chicken finger?

Maybe it’s the “Pow, pow, pow” part. So what if they were having pizza that day? If he pointed a  slice of pepperoni and said “Pow, pow pow,” would the punishment be the same?

And how about some adult responsibility? What ever happened to the Brady law? Did anyone do a background check on the kid before serving him? Did he have a past history of using food in a threatening manner?

Maybe it’s a second amendment issue. When our forefathers gave us the right to bear arms, were they only thinking of muskets, or did they consider briskets?

And the teacher, when she got home from work that day, what did she say to her husband? “George, I don’t know if I can take it anymore. This morning a kid pointed a chicken finger at me. How was I to know it wasn’t loaded?”

The culprit’s mother, Kelli Kissinger, seemed to miss the point entirely. She said, “I think a chicken strip is something insignificant. It’s just a piece of chicken. How could you play like it’s a gun?”

Kelli, dear, don’t be so coy. I can’t believe you haven’t noticed that little boys can and will pretend anything is a gun. A colleague of mine once lamented that he and his wife decided early on that no toy guns were to ever cross their threshold. So instead their four-year old would just pick up a stick in the yard and say “Pow, pow pow.”

I thought this boys and guns thing was common knowledge. If so, then shouldn’t the school district shoulder some of the blame for allowing potential pretend guns to fall into little boys’ hands? At the minimum, a thorough review of their menu is in order. I mean, this was only a chicken finger. Think of what they could do with a hot dog.

I could next reflect on what perhaps is the real issue here.  Just why are little boys so determined to play with guns that they’ll use anything, even something as unlikely as fried cafeteria food? I’m sure a Freudian might see possible phallic overtones to this whole “males and guns” thing, but I’m not going there. All this fried chicken finger talk is making me hungry.  I’m heading out to the Elmira Road, Fast Food Alley.  But to be safe, I’ll just order a nice round burger.

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