EDITORIAL: This Eagle Scout is no felon

‘Zero tolerance’ is zero common sense in North Carolina

It’s May, and for most seniors in high school, thoughts turn to final exams, getting a date for the prom and graduation. For David Cole Withrow, an 18-year-old senior at Princeton High School in Princeton, N.C., his final days will be spent dealing with a suspension, an arrest record and a felony charge in criminal court.

Mr. Withrow, who goes by “Cole,” is not a criminal. He’s an Eagle Scout and an honor student. He has a college scholarship, and he has been accepted at both Campbell University and East Carolina University. So far, so good.

Mr. Withrow arrived at Princeton High on April 29 just as he would on any other school day — until he realized that he inadvertently left a pair of unloaded shotguns in his pickup, secured there after he went skeet shooting the day before.

In more robust days in America, this would not have been problem. He could have arranged a brief absence, driven home, removed the guns and returned to class. He could have — and, actually, did — call his mother from the school office to get her help.

The call was his undoing. A school administrator overheard the telephone call and dialed 911. An ambitious young man with a clean record is now in trouble with the law, and he won’t be allowed to graduate with his classmates. Instead, he’s supposed to return to class next week at an “alternative school.”

Zero-tolerance laws often produce silliness and injustices of this sort, but Princeton High School has shown leniency in the past. Two years ago, an assistant principal took a gun to the school and was only suspended without pay for three days, and no charges were filed. What’s good for a teacher ought to be good for a student.

The public wants similar mercy for Mr. Withrow. Dozens have rallied to his cause on Twitter (using the hashtag #FreeCole). Students, parents and just about everyone else with common sense and equipped for thinking realize that this young man made a harmless mistake.

The Johnson County School District is trying to ameliorate matters, getting Mr. Withrow a path to a diploma this spring. It’s not clear what will happen in court, though Mr. Withrow’s attorney, Frank Wood, thinks a pending May 16 court date will produce “a good result,” since no one can prove the young man “knowingly and willingly” took his guns to town. The story might have a happy ending. Harding University, a Church of Christ school in Searcy, Ark., and Liberty University, a Baptist school in Lynchburg, Va., have offered Mr. Withrow scholarships. He’s clearly the kind of student universities covet. Jerry Falwell Jr., the chancellor at Liberty, says that “anti-gun zealots tried to vilify [Cole Withrow] for doing the right thing, so Liberty has decided to award him the help he needs to attend a private Christian college.”

That’s the Christian thing to do. Liberal administrators have all but eliminated the gun clubs and sport-shooting teams that once were common on high school campuses because they’re frightened by guns and contemptuous of those who own them. But a young man’s future shouldn’t be sacrificed on the fears of the fearful. Prosecutors should drop this case. It has no merit.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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