Zero Tolerance For Guns: Right or Wrong Message For Kids?

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With tension around the U.S. at all-time highs, children keep getting in trouble for guns - but are they getting in too much trouble for doing little harm?

Whether they’re plastic, formed by fingers or even half-eaten Pop Tart guns, parents and schools seem to have “zero tolerance” for kids and guns.

The question is whether this backfires and sends the wrong message.

Pop Tart Gun

Elementary educators trying to discourage children's pretend beefs with pretend guns is nothing new, but these days, rules have become stricter than ever.

Some say too strict, despite a recent spate of high-profile violence.

“These zero-tolerance policies are psychotic, in the strict sense of the word: psychotic means ‘out of touch with reality,’” says Dr. Leonard Sax, a Pennsylvania psychologist.

His point is that in recent months, there have been more than a few examples of children being disciplined for what was once seen as innocent role play.

A group of students was suspended this month from a Washington elementary school for using Nerf dart guns in a math lesson, despite having permission.

In March, second-grader Josh Welch was suspended from a Maryland elementary school after unknowingly biting a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun.

Last month, also in Maryland, a 5-year-old boy who brought an orange-tipped cap gun onto his Calvert County school bus was suspended for 10 days.

Girls have been swept up in the recent phenomenon as well.

In January, a fifth-grader in Philadelphia was scolded for accidentally bringing to school a piece of paper folded into the shape of a gun by her grandfather.

A 6-year-old South Carolina girl was expelled for a toy gun.

Sax said he worries about the long-term effect of this.

“Out-of-touch policies such as these," he says, foster the belief that school is "a stupid waste of time" and just a distraction from the rest of their lives.

Dr. Dan Kindlon, a child psychology professor at Harvard University, says administrators have a strong basis for delivering the anti-gun message to kids.

Despite the absurd examples above, “I'm sure the specter of Sandy Hook, Columbine, etc., haunts the dreams of many school administrators,” said Kindlon.

Sax doesn’t disagree, but said those school administrators - and parents too - should figure out how to get their point across in a less heavy-handed way.

“There are more effective ways to encourage good behavior and to discourage criminal behavior, without disengaging boys from school altogether,” Sax said.

What do you think? Do parents and officials overreact re: guns and kids?

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