Sue Carlton: Pop-Tarts law is gun lobbying we don't need at school

Published Feb. 22, 2014

A law defending our children's right to bear Pop-Tarts makes perfect sense for Florida — the latest test of how far we'll go when it comes to guns.

A bill under consideration in the state Legislature would forbid schools from disciplining kids who make fake firearms out of prepackaged pastry or point a pencil at a classmate and say bang. Kidding? Would that I were.

This unnecessary push to take discretion from educators stems in part from an incident last year: A 7-year-old boy in Maryland was suspended after he reportedly chewed his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun. The National Rifle Association gave the kid a lifetime membership, and no, I did not make that up.

The bill's background cites a handful of other cases from around the country that may or may not have been overreaches, such as suspending a seventh-grader for a gun-shaped key chain. Perhaps educators are more sensitive to gun-related play in the wake of the horrific shootings of 20 first-graders in Connecticut.

The bill against disciplining a student for "simulating a firearm or weapon while playing," sponsored by Ocala Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley, actually specifies "brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item." (Um, how often does that happen?) A student could not get into trouble for having a toy gun of 2 inches or less, pointing a finger or pencil and pretending to shoot, drawing a picture of a gun or "vocalizing" an imaginary one. Generously, the bill would still let schools handle discipline if the behavior is "substantially" disruptive, physically hurts someone or puts them in "reasonable fear of bodily harm."

Baxley says the bill is about a "layer of common sense so we're not overreacting" and about being careful with suspensions and expulsions.

But state law?

Why do I keep imagining a friendly competition inside the headquarters of the powerful NRA for the craziest pro-gun thing they can get lawmakers to do? (Maybe we'll get them to cross their eyes and rub their tummies this time when they vote yes!)

The real danger is not waffle-wielding second-graders but gun advocates poking their noses into schools. This takes disciplinary matters out of the hands of experienced teachers and administrators. And by the way, parents who disagree with how their child was dealt with have avenues for appeal — solutions well short of passing a law that oh-by-the-way also bolsters gun interests.

It's just hard to buy that this one's a pressing issue in education, given, say, drop-out rates, the achievement gap and teacher pay, for starters.

The bill also says a student can't get in trouble for expressing "an opinion regarding a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment," an apparent reference to a teenager who got in big trouble over wearing an NRA T-shirt. We need a law to tell us this? Has there been a spate of anti-Second Amendment expulsions we haven't heard about? Either way, sure is nice for the NRA to get it in writing.

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Marion Hammer, the formidable NRA lobbyist, insists this is not a gun bill. "This is about kids," she says, "kids who are being traumatized and effectively abused because school officials have not dealt appropriately with it." Me, I think it's guns.

Will lawmakers bite on the Pop-Tart law? Probably. Then again, they could opt to let educators do the educating and get on to the real issues of our state.