Today’s 24-hour cable and internet news cycle brings information to the forefront more quickly and efficiently than in decades past. Consequently, news headlines that might have gone unnoticed by the general public are now unavoidable. In the case of high-profile tragedies, this can lead to a form of hysteria, as media outlets pore over every grisly detail for days at a time and uncover additional, smaller-scale-but-still-serious tragedies that seem to suggest a growing trend, whether one exists or not. This has been the case in recent years when it comes to school shootings. Despite the fact that the stats show that school shooting deaths and most other violent crimes are in decline, the intense, hyper-vigilant news coverage of the modern day gives a misleading impression.
No one questions the importance of having adequate security policies to protect kids and prevent school shootings, and, even one such tragedy is too many, but hysterical reactions to crises can themselves cause great harm. In recent years, anti-gun rights activists working at positions in schools have, in some extreme cases, played politics with students’ livelihoods, expelling and suspending kids for playing with imaginary guns at recess. In March of 2013 in Maryland, 7-year-old Josh Welch was suspended from school after accidentally chewing his Pop Tart into a shape that some people felt looked like a gun. Shockingly, this was not an isolated incident. Zero tolerance policies have been creatively applied in many recent cases across the country, resulting in an epidemic of suspensions or expulsions for kids playing with imaginary weapons at recess, with recent examples in states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Colorado, among others.
As a result, Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott signed the cleverly-nicknamed “Pop Tart” bill into law last week, which adjusts public schools’ zero tolerance policies in a way that prohibits school administrators from disciplining children for brandishing harmless imaginary or simulated weapons. The bill’s text states specifically, regarding schools’ zero-tolerance policies, “Simulating a firearm or weapon while playing or wearing clothing or accessories that depict a firearm or weapon or express an opinion regarding a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is not grounds for disciplinary action or referral to the criminal justice or juvenile justice system under this section or s. 1006.13.” It also goes on to specifically define simulating a firearm with particular examples, including “Brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm or weapon.” It is worth noting that the bill does contain exceptions for students who are being disruptive during class time to prevent a loophole that might have otherwise allowed kids to play army during the middle of a math test.
Governor Scott signed the bill amid a signing spree which included another gun rights bill that would allow armed victims of crimes in progress to defend themselves with a warning shot without fear of prosecution, which was inspired by the Marissa Alexander case, in which a Florida woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot to protect herself from her allegedly abusive spouse.