"The Gun-Free School Zones Act prohibits any person from knowingly possessing a firearm that has moved in or otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce at a place the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone. The GFSZA also prohibits any person from knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the safety of another, discharging or attempting to discharge a firearm that has moved in or otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce at a place the person knows is a school zone. The GFSZA defines "school zone" as: 1) in, or on the grounds of, a public, parochial or private school; or 2) within a distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of a public, parochial or private school."
A Newton County third grader learned a harsh lesson last week about the rigidity of federal weapons laws in schools, a lesson that's much too harsh.
An 8 year old at the Newton County Theme School mistakenly brought an unloaded pellet gun to school, and when he voluntarily turned it in to the principal, he was suspended and now awaits a decision before a school tribunal as to his fate.
We can't fault the principal, who followed the required procedure and turned the weapon over to the school resource officer. The principal also followed the school system's handbook, immediately suspended the boy for no less than 10 days and ordered him to appear before a tribunal to determine his fate in the system going forward. That tribunal is scheduled to be held today, Oct. 31, and the boy will soon find out his punishment.
We understand that Newton County school officials have in place a zero tolerance policy on dealing with such issues; we also understand that part of this policy is required by federal law. There's no question that this nation has had too many tragic murders committed on school grounds, but those incidents, as sad as they are, have been in the isolated and rare.
As this young man found out, the real tragedy in this situation is that honesty is no longer always the best policy in regards to issues that the federal government has gotten its teeth into. In our country, there was a time not too long ago that issues were able to be decided at the local level and even by the school principal or superintendent. Too often these days, the pendulum of life goes from one extreme to the other without ever stopping in the middle and has consistently allowed the minority to impose its wishes on the majority.
We believe that removing the ability of the principal to handle this situation and recommend punishment to fit that crime is poor. Bringing the gun to school was a bad choice that the student made; however, he made it through a careless action as opposed to malicious intent. He righted the wrong by letting the administration know about the situation.
This newspaper feels this student did not deserve to be punished for his mistake and his honesty in correcting this mistake. We urge the tribunal to recognize that and treat this young man in a gentler and more reasoned manner than he has been so far.
Obtrusive black and white laws have far reaching and unintentional consequences. The world we live in is not a black and white world, and thus we need to empower local leadership to be able to apply intelligent discretion when the situation warrants it. Letting people review facts and make an informed decision is almost always the best way to go.
Laws that are made that are so overreaching need to be amended and corrected and local officials need to be empowered to make good decisions as they know best given the situation. Let's not get more bureaucratic, but instead use cases like this one to continue to foster local leadership and decision making.
If you agree, please communicate your thoughts and feelings to your congressional representatives:
Hank Johnson (D), District 4
1427 Longworth House Office Bldg. Washington, D.C. 20515
Paul Broun (R); District 10
325 Cannon House Office Bldg. Washington, D.C. 20515;