Zero Tolerance Nets Two 11-Year Old Boys Juvenile Criminal Charges For Bringing A Toy Gun To School

by Tim Cushing
Techdirt
Feb. 21, 2014

Zero tolerance weapons policies at schools continue to be ridiculous. Between Pop Tarts bitten into gun-like shapes and drawings of guns being treated as severely as the real thing, schools enforcing these policies (forced on them by the government's decision to tie funding to weapons policies) have slid into cartoonish parody of discipline.

In news that should come as a surprise to almost no one, two eleven-year old boys at a Flint, MI school were arrested and charged after bringing a toy gun to school. (via The Blaze)
Two Doyle-Ryder Elementary School students were arrested Wednesday after a “toy gun” was found at the school.

The two male students were arrested on disorderly conduct charges about 8:45 a.m., Feb. 5, at the school at 1040 N. Saginaw St., according to a Flint police report. The boys were released to their parents.
The boys are now facing charges of disturbing the peace being brought by the county prosecutor. His statement seems to indicate he's filing charges as part of his ad hoc "scared straight" program rather than as a result of any danger they posed to their school.
Leyton says whether it's a real gun or a toy gun - this is still a serious matter.

"It's always your concern that a young person can get his hands on a real gun and bring it to school. There is no reason to bring a gun to school. Bringing a gun, even if it's a toy gun, to school causes all sorts of chaos and I think these youngsters need to be brought into the courthouse and we need to get their attention so that's what we're going to do," he said.
Because fake guns are real guns in the eyes of the school and the county prosecutor. And any child that can't see the difference needs to have it "brought to their attention" via criminal charges.

No one involved in this incident seems to know exactly what sort of gun was being wielded by the students. Police called it a "toy gun." Superintendent Larry Watkins "believed" it was a BB gun. Prosecutor David Leyton simply described the gun as "orange and plastic." He also noted it was "inoperable."

Here's where the story diverges a bit from the usual "boys will be boys and play with toy guns and schools will overreact" narrative. According to the prosecutor, this is why the "gun" ended up at school.
Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton says one of the boys had a dispute with a teacher and thought he would teach the teacher a lesson.
I wonder if Leyton will see any irony in that statement as he prepares to teach these two students a lesson. If this is true, I don't necessarily have a problem with Leyton filing charges to address the threatening behavior (and not the supposed "gun"), but he should understand that he's perpetuating this mindset by doing so. So many people think the only way to reach people is to threaten them -- whether it's the boys with their "gun" or Leyton's hauling them to court.

Behind this slightly-more-ominous-than-most narrative lies the same old zero-tolerance thinking. (Note how much of each story is devoted to discussion of the "gun," as compared to a discussion of the students' motivation.) A gun is gun, even if it's plastic, orange and inoperable. An inoperable weapon can look exactly like an operable one, but an orange plastic gun doesn't look like a weapon -- it looks like a toy. Which is what it is. Yes, the chance that a student could get ahold of real weapon should be a concern, but overreacting to fake guns doesn't somehow prevent the worst case scenarios from ever happening. It just makes life more difficult for students who actually comprehend the difference between the fake guns and real guns.













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