Or perhaps that’s where it originates…
The sickness continues to spread, gentle readers. In this case, a fifth grader—a 10 year-old boy—was not only suspended from school pending expulsion, but was arrested, booked at a juvenile holding facility and eventually released to his parents. The charge? “Brandishing a weapon.” The place? Ironically enough, Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia.
On Monday, the boy showed the plastic gun to at least one other student during a bus ride home from the school. The 10-year-old did not point it at anyone or threaten to shoot it, but he neglected to mention that the weapon was fake, said Alexandria police spokeswoman Ashley Hildebrandt.
Ah, so everyone must have been absolutely terror-stricken, having no way to tell the toy was not real? Not quite:
The toy resembled a semi-automatic handgun, said police spokesman Jody Donaldson. It was silver and had a black handle. It also had a orange tip that went into the barrel, showing that no ammunition was coming out of it.
The local school district was very concerned about safety:
The safety of our students is always our first concern. We appreciate the quick response and action by our police.
The police were very concerned about safety:
Any time we get a call like this, we take it very seriously until we can determine the extent of the weapon — if it’s real or not — and what the student intends to do with it,’ Donaldson said.
Not everyone was impressed:
Robin Ficker, a Bethesda attorney who represented a 6-year-old Montgomery County student who was suspended last month for pointing his finger and saying ‘pow,’ said the schools have become terror-stricken.
‘That just shows a certain hysteria with the school administration,’ Ficker said Tuesday. ‘What is the point? To say that you don’t like guns, you don’t like the Second Amendment?
Good questions, attorney Ficker, good questions.
Let’s review: A ten year old boy brings a toy gun to school, does not threaten anyone, does not wave it around in school, does not, in fact, remove it from his backpack until he showed it to a fellow student on the bus on the way home after school. And this, under Virginia law, is a crime? Here is the relevant Virginia statute:
18.2-282. Pointing, holding, or brandishing firearm, air or gas operated weapon or object similar in appearance; penalty.
A. It shall be unlawful for any person to point, hold or brandish any firearm or any air or gas operated weapon or any object similar in appearance, whether capable of being fired or not, in such manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another or hold a firearm or any air or gas operated weapon in a public place in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another of being shot or injured. However, this section shall not apply to any person engaged in excusable or justifiable self-defense. Persons violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor or, if the violation occurs upon any public, private or religious elementary, middle or high school, including buildings and grounds or upon public property within 1,000 feet of such school property, he shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.
B. Any police officer in the performance of his duty, in making an arrest under the provisions of this section, shall not be civilly liable in damages for injuries or death resulting to the person being arrested if he had reason to believe that the person being arrested was pointing, holding, or brandishing such firearm or air or gas operated weapon, or object that was similar in appearance, with intent to induce fear in the mind of another.
C. For purposes of this section, the word “firearm” means any weapon that will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel single or multiple projectiles by the action of an explosion of a combustible material. The word “ammunition,” as used herein, shall mean a cartridge, pellet, ball, missile or projectile adapted for use in a firearm.
Media accounts are quite clear: the boy merely showed the toy gun–which did resemble an actual handgun except for the fact that it had, as required by law, a bright orange muzzle clearly marking it as a toy—to a friend on a school bus. There is not the slightest indication that anyone feared anything, or, considering the fact that anyone could tell it was a toy at a glance, could reasonably fear it.
Remember too that it was not until the following morning that school authorities seized the boy as he came to school and found the toy in his backpack, again allowing no possibility for a reasonable person to be put in fear.
No police officer should arrest anyone, no prosecutor should prosecute anyone, and no court should convict anyone of a crime unless each and every element of that crime is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, the elements are:
(1) That someone did “hold or brandish any firearm or any air or gas operated weapon or any object similar in appearance, whether capable of being fired or not,” and;
(2) it was held or brandished “in such manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another,” or
(3) “hold a firearm or any air or gas operated weapon in a public place in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another of being shot or injured.”
One can reasonably take exception with the extraordinarily vague nature of “any object similar in appearance,” but let’s concede that issue for the moment. The boy was obviously holding the “object.” But in order to arrest, prosecute and convict, the state is going to have to show that someone was reasonably struck with fear by the sight of what was clearly a toy gun, and there is no evidence in the available accounts to indicate this.
No doubt, some might argue that the mere rumor of a gun is sufficient to strike terror into the hearts of teachers, students and administrators, but considering the facts, that’s a ridiculous stretching of the law. And what is more ridiculous is any police officer, given these facts, making an arrest. Police officers are paid to use substantial discretion, discretion that, absent more direct evidence of the fulfillment of the elements of this crime, was apparently not engaged.
Of all of the incidents of educator lunacy that have recently cropped up, this is the case involving a toy that might have reasonably resembled an actual firearm at a glance by those with no knowledge of firearms, but even a few seconds of additional observation would have revealed the bright orange muzzle, and the inescapable fact that it was a toy. This incident too has the most extreme overreaction: a ten year-old actually arrested for showing a friend a toy.
Is this truly what we’ve come to? Is this truly the nation that saved the world at least three times in the last century and that has—until the age of Obama—kept the peace? Is this truly the land of the free and the home of the brave, a people who cannot tell the difference between harmless toys and actually dangerous threats?
The jury remains out on that one.