Ron Burns did not grow up to become a mass murderer.
Nor did he rob a store, serve as a gunman in a drive-by shooting, or pistol whip anyone.
He did, however, participate in a fourth grade finger gun fight on the school playground.
Today that would have made him public enemy No. 1, got him suspended for at least three days, had his home life questioned, and may even get him put under surveillance by law enforcement.
And while gun violence has dropped significantly in America since peaking in 1993 based on Pew Research Center studies, finger gun violence is on the upswing.
We know this because of information provided by Jeff Warner. He’s the spokesman for Columbus public schools in Ohio.
Warner defended the decision of a Columbus elementary principal to suspend a 10-year-old boy for finger gun violence. Warner noted that Devonshire Alternative Elementary School Principal Patricia Rice had warned students and parents alike of the consequences of using finger guns including making mention of it in three newsletters.
So when a teacher saw the 10-year-old put a finger gun to the head of another student and shot “kind of execution style” a young criminal was born.
It didn’t matter that the victim didn’t see it and therefore didn’t feel threatened. It didn’t matter that the fifth grader, as quoted in the Columbus Dispatch, indicated he was playing around just like a lot of other finger gun rule breakers were doing in his school.
Warner was quoted as saying, “The kids were told, ‘If you don’t stop doing this type of stuff, there would be consequences.’ It’s just been escalating.”
You got it. Finger gun violence has been escalating.
School violence is serious stuff. Anyone who has been roughed up by a school bully knows that. But you notice how school authorities didn’t resort to a zero tolerance policy toward finger gun violence until the World Wide Web sent real incidents of school gun violence viral?
If there was a repeat of the lunchtime finger gun battle on the school playground 48 years ago, school authorities today would probably lockdown the campus and summon police SWAT units. There were 12 of us involved burning off energy back in the politically incorrect early 1960s. All of us were friends. Unless I missed something, not one of us grew up as anti-social or prone to violence.
I get that it’s a different world today. That doesn’t justify overreacting.
Yes, the Columbus fifth grader was not following a school rule. But to go from zero to suspension without first trying a parent-teacher conference or similar intervention aimed at correcting unacceptable campus behavior shows how intolerant school officials can be when it comes to young kids that don’t fit into today’s straight-jacket mold of student behavior.
It would be easy to counter the finger gun suspension with incidents where teachers reportedly duct tape unruly students to chairs, lock them in closets or violently grab them by the wrist while yelling at them that they will never amount to anything. In each of those incidents the teachers were left on the job while an investigation took place. Such incidents are cases of actual physical abuse and not imaginary acts of gun violence.
If overreaching on school zero tolerance policies are justified because it is safer to err on the side of caution then why is it only a one-way street?
Teachers abusing students is far from being epidemic. At the same time equating imaginary finger guns with actual violence as the basis for zero tolerance school policies is a stretch of mega-sized proportions.
It’s probably a good idea it is against the rules. But to make it a one strike and you’re suspended is absurd especially when it is weighed against more serious transgressions were students are actually harmed physically either by other students or by their teachers.
Finger gun pointing is not a precursor to violent behavior or even developing a fascination with the real thing. I participated in that finger gun shootout 48 years ago and I honestly don’t ever recall holding a real gun let alone shooting one.
I did hold plenty of toy guns. As a kid growing up in the 1960s I played the political incorrect games of cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, and combat on summer days when we turned the entire neighborhood into a battlefield.
I apologize if telling you that gave you heart palpitations or sent a chill down your spine. But long before video games replaced kids’ imaginations that is the kind of stuff kids zeroed in on. Come to think of it, that’s probably why video games center primarily around gun play. People who make them for a living aren’t stupid. That means the current school-age generation is no different than the generation that are running schools except that principals and administrators weren’t standing in line at midnight on a school night to fork over $90 for the latest version of Call of Duty. Instead they just used their imagination.
Of course we are told by “the experts” that Call of Duty has turned every pre-teen and teen that plays it into an anti-social killing machine.
With the escalating finger gun violence and violent video games growing in popularity, perhaps school officials in Columbus and elsewhere should take the next logical step to ensure school safety. They need to banish William Golding’s books from school library shelves.
Golding wrote a book that many schools expose formative, young male minds to – “Lord of the Flies.”
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.