Gunning for the Kiddies

What kind of a "climate" has taken hold of society?

By Dave Kopel, Paul Gallant, & Joanne D. Eisen of the Independence Institute

National Review Online, 9/22/00 9:35 a.m.More by Kopel on zero tolerance.

Back-to-school used to come with the warning: "Look both ways before crossing the street." That should be updated to: "Be careful how you point your fingers."

Today, as it turns out, if a child does the wrong kind of pointing, he or she can be tossed right out of school.

Things have gotten so bad that children at a New Zealand school must now have a "licence" to play with toy guns (the policy was adopted after the school found that a ban on toy guns resulted in the children inventing guns from sticks). So, the Tahunanui Kindergarten in Nelson now requires children playing with pretend guns, which must be built at school and not imported from home, to carry permission cards fashioned after real-life weapon permits. The children have to handle the guns safely (not point them at other people) and appropriately (no imaginary hunting of endangered species).

So no playing cops and robbers, or "Europeans and Maoris." But possum-hunting is alright.

The New Zealand school got a flurry of press attention for its policy, which is actually reasonable and moderate by American standards. Bring a toy gun to an American school, and you get expelled.

In March, the school administration in Tecumsah, Michigan recommended expulsion for up to half a year for a fifth-grade honor student who brought a toy gun to school in order to play James Bond during recess.

A Columbus, Ohio high school senior was suspended for the rest of the semester when a security guard searched his car (which belonged to the student's mother) and found a toy gun that had been left behind by a neighbor's child.

Should children attempt to substitute finger-guns for toy guns, the consequences can be severe. Last April, four kindergarteners in Sayreville, New Jersey, were suspended for playing cops and robbers on the school playground. Their classmates had overheard the dangerous game, and turned them in.

Explained district superintendent William Bauer, "This is a no tolerance policy. We're very firm on weapons and threats...Given the climate of our society, we cannot take any of these [childens'] statements in a light manner." In other words, playing cops and robbers with one's finger involves an implicit threat to perpetrate an actual gun-point robbery.

In contrast, a soft-on-crime Boston principal simply lectured second graders against toting "finger guns," but didn't suspend anyone.

What kind of a "climate" has taken hold of society today when innocent pre-schoolers are now being treated like armed criminals?

The Origins of Responsibility

Most four-year-olds can distinguish play-time from real-time. If they play Simba the lion on the playground, they don't try to kill an antelope single-handedly a few hours later. The problem is that many "educators" no longer can tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

Fifty years before Charles Darwin authored the "Origin of the Species," French naturalist Jean Baptiste de Lamarck developed a theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics ( Zoological Philosophy, 1809). Lamarck proposed that animals acquire different characteristics in response to their environment.

For example, a giraffe, by stretching its neck to reach foliage on high, would pass on the characteristic of an elongated neck to the next generation. Cut off the tails of mice, and surely, in several generations, one would end up with a race of tail-less mice.

While Lamarck's notions of evolution were ultimately discredited, they were revived in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist era. There, the botanical genetics of Lysenkoism became official doctrine, as a means of finding biological evidence that the government could build "the new Soviet man." Of course, Lysenko's plant genetics didn't work, and the new Soviet man was better proof of devolution than of evolution.

Yet, we can see the modern-day equivalent of Lamarckism all around us. Stop a generation or two of children from playing with toy guns or finger guns, and there will no longer be any gun violence.

Today, many Americans have been brainwashed into believing that neither they nor their children are capable of safely and responsibly handling firearms. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The cycle of gun ownership from parent to child has, in the past, always produced children capable of handling potentially deadly objects without harm to themselves — or to others. All available evidence shows that hasn't changed.

An ongoing Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention study tracked youths in Rochester, New York, from 7th grade to 12th grade. Of the youths who owned guns lawfully in the 7th and 8th grade — that is, who obtained a gun from a parent — not one committed a firearm-related crime over the five-year study period.

Children given guns, and provided the education to handle them responsibly and with respect, were the most non-violent of all groups studied. These gun-owning youths were significantly less violent than teenagers who do not own guns, according to the Rochester data.

Raising children who are productive and respectful members of society takes time, requires good parenting, and necessitates educators who are willing to teach our children how to make the best real-life decisions based on fact — not on wishful thinking. One reason the sport-shooting Rochester youths grew up so well is that they had parents who were involved in their lives in many ways; sharing participation in the shooting sports was just one way in which the parents chose to make a constructive difference.

In 1907, Dr. Maria Montessori began a revolution in early childhood education when she opened her Casa Dei Bambini school in the slums of Rome. She, too, hoped that the right school environment would guide children into growing into non-violent adults. Montessori education is founded on respect for the child, and on valuing the child for his own sake, rather than for his utility to the adult world.

This is just the opposite of today's mean-spirited "zero tolerance" expulsions and suspensions, in which children are sacrificed to the neuroses and foolish obsessions of adults. 

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