The days of kids playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians in the schoolyard may come to an end because of overly zealous “zero tolerance” policies.
Over the past year, schools have increasingly punished children for playing games that involve pretend firearms. Now Florida is leading the nation in stopping this madness.
On Tuesday, the Florida Senate Education Committee unanimously passed a measure that has become known as the “Pop Tart bill.”
The legislation got its nickname from an incident involving Josh Welch, a 7-year-old Maryland boy who was suspended from school in March 2013 for chewing his strawberry Pop Tart into the shape of a gun.
The Florida bill makes it clear that children in public schools will be allowed to simulate firearms while playing without risk of disciplinary action or being referred to the criminal or juvenile justice system.
The Florida House passed the companion bill Thursday by an overwhelming vote of 98-17. Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s spokeswoman Jackie Schutz told me, “The governor supports the Second Amendment and our state’s self-defense law and will review any bill that comes to his desk.”
Marion Hammer, a former president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the current head of its Florida lobbying operation said that, “Children should not be punished because some adult lacks common sense or the capacity for rational judgment.”
Ms. Hammer said the NRA supports the legislation because it would “give guidance and relief to school administrators who must walk a fine line between following the law and protecting our children” as well as “stop the abusive result of overreactions of some administrators.”
The House legislation lists the types of games that cannot get a kid into trouble, such as “brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm or weapon.”
Schoolchildren also will be allowed expressly to use a “finger or hand to simulate a firearm,” draw a picture of a weapon and possess a “toy firearm or weapon made of plastic snap-together building blocks.”
These specifics in the statute seem extreme until you look at the real-life cases in which children have been punished for playing these time-honored games.
Last month, 10-year-old Nathan Entingh was suspended for three days from his Columbus, Ohio, school for pointing his finger like a gun in the classroom.
In January, 6-year-old Rodney Lynch was suspended from his Silver Spring, Md., school for making a shooting gesture with his finger. (His appalled parents later hired an attorney to have the child’s school record cleared.)
Jordan Bennett, an 8-year-old Florida boy, was suspended from school in October for using his finger as a pretend gun while playing cops and robbers. In May, two second-grade boys were suspended from Driver Elementary School in Virginia for pointing pencils at each other while playing soldier.
The Florida bill also makes clear that children will not get into trouble for wearing clothes or accessories with firearms or weapons on them or express opinions about the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Last April, eighth-grader Jared Marcum was arrested at school in Logan County, W.Va., for refusing to take off his NRA shirt that had the organization’s logo of crossed rifles with the slogan “Protect Your Right.” A judge dismissed the charge.
Two weeks ago in upstate New York, 16-year-old Shane Kinney was suspended for a day for wearing an NRA shirt. Shane refused to obey school administrators who demanded that he turn the shirt inside out or put tape over the NRA logo with the crossed rifles and the words “The 2nd Amendment Shall Not Be Infringed” on the back.
If the Florida legislation is signed into law, it will be the first in the nation to codify what is considered children’s play instead of real danger. The NRA also supports similar legislation in Ohio and Oklahoma that instill common sense into “zero tolerance.”
Since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, schools are understandably more concerned about the safety of their children.
However, cracking down on kids playing harmless games, using their imaginations or expressing their free speech has gotten out of control. And primary education teachers and administrators are notoriously knee-jerk anti-gun.
All states should consider introducing bills modeled after the one in Florida so our children are protected from unfair punishment for innocent fun.
Emily Miller is senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times and author of “Emily Gets Her Gun” (Regnery, 2013).