Monday, May 12, 2008

Gun discovered at SF public school

About a week ago my husband came home with a Squeeze Rocket Launcher. My 3-year-old son pulled the new toy out of the box, aimed it at me, and said, "Mom, I've got a gun. I'm going to shoot you." I completely freaked out and you can read my story about the incident, "Should I let toy guns in the house?" on SFGate.com.

I have been quite troubled by the toy gun issue, so I sent an email to one of my favorite experts on parenting, Michael Thompson, Ph. D. He's the coauthor of The New York Times bestseller Raising Cane: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, and the more recent It's a Boy: Understanding Your Son's Development from Birth to Age 18. He sent me a thoughtful response about boys and guns and basically told me that it's natural for boys to play with them. You can read his complete response in my post titled, "Coming to Terms with Toy Guns."

Anyway, guns have been on my mind this past week, so I was taken back when I read the story on SFGate.com today, "First-grader caught with gun at S.F. school." Apparently, "Staffers at Cleveland Elementary School found the gun in the boy's backpack after overhearing children talking about a gun on campus."

How is everyone feeling about this?

27 comments:

  1. I was vehemently against gun play by my son and it was becoming an escalating topic at his preschool where there were a disproportionate number of four year old boys. The school had a strict policy of no gun play yet the kids would fashion guns out of anything and no one was quite sure what to do. Then one of the parents passed on to me an article from Mothering magazine and I did a 180 degree turn on my gun policy. Others may not be as radically transformed as I was after reading it but it may allow one to see another perspective.

    http://tinyurl.com/ytzmyd

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  2. The Mothering magazine piece is an enlightening read.

    I have two sons and one of the boys has always been drawn to guns. His preschool had a 'no guns' policy and when he was young (he is 10 now) I really had a hard time with his fascination with all kinds of weapons. Being a pacifist, I just didn't like to see him pointing a gun at someone and shooting, pretend or not.

    Now I can see that he was, and is, working through some real anxieties and the power he has when he wields his water or nerf guns (the only ones we ended up having in the house) lets him work on these feelings in a way that is very real to him. We do have some rules, no shots above the waist, no shooting at unarmed parties, no shooting Mom. I have been known to set up a wild west style shooting gallery in the living room to encourage shooting inanimate objects instead of live targets. i found that even I like to shoot down a house of cards...

    But, I bet that when he is able, he will be the first to jump at the chance to play Halo or one of the other shoot-em-up video games. I won't like that any more than the gun play that he is into now, but I think that it is a part of our kids' world that it is better faced head on so that we can try to sort out why they gravitate toward it.


    And it is frightening that a 6 year old has acess to a real gun. where the heck were the adults in that household?

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  3. I want to credit Cleveland's staff with what sounds like a strong response: following up on a rumor (some don't, and some school staff are so removed from students that they don't hear most rumors), addressing it openly with students, and declining to make an immediate "zero tolerance" expulsion.

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  4. Even the Dalia Lama enjoys military equipment; he has been known to study photos of battle grounds and equipment. It is simply natural for boys. Evolution, you know.

    As for the 1st grader, his parents should be arrested. It was not the kid's fault, really. What kind of parent has a gun available for their 1st grader to get his hands on, let alone bring to school. This is a perfect example of schools doing the job of parents.



    http://thefrustratedteacher.blogspot.com/index.html

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  5. We had a no-guns rule, except that my husband insisted on exempting squirt guns. Of course that includes giant Super Soakers the size of bazookas, and my kids (including my daughter, who had a long tomboy phase) have engaged in some major warfare with those.

    Plus I didn't give a thought to the little teeny guns that come with some Lego sets, so since my kids were Lego freaks there was lots of miniature gunplay with those too.

    I still don't think it's a bad idea to make the statement. It was never a mindless thing with my kids, since there would be discussion about the water guns and teeny Lego guns as opposed to the ones they weren't allowed to have. The "My mom hates toy guns" eye-rolling is a valuable lesson even when the rule is not being treated with worshipful respect.

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  6. We had a no-guns rule, except that my husband insisted on exempting squirt guns. Of course that includes giant Super Soakers the size of bazookas, and my kids (including my daughter, who had a long tomboy phase) have engaged in some major warfare with those.

    Plus I didn't give a thought to the little teeny guns that come with some Lego sets, so since my kids were Lego freaks there was lots of miniature gunplay with those too.

    I still don't think it's a bad idea to make the statement. It was never a mindless thing with my kids, since there would be discussion about the water guns and teeny Lego guns as opposed to the ones they weren't allowed to have. The "My mom hates toy guns" eye-rolling is a valuable lesson even when the rule is not being treated with worshipful respect.

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  7. Sorry for the dupe, and "Kate," I would have posted my comment on your other blog but I can't navigate through their stupid log-on rule without time-consuming hassle, having once signed on for something and completely forgotten what sign-on and password I created.

    What kind of bosses do you have who would create these stupid log-on setups? Oh yeah -- they're my husband's bosses too -- never mind!

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  8. "And it is frightening that a 6 year old has acess to a real gun. where the heck were the adults in that household?"


    Duh, hello. This is the world we live in.

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  10. I have been a peace activist for many years and was distressed to say the least when our now-five-year-old son started chewing toast into the shape of a gun and shooting it at us. Most boys our son's age that we know seem to be have making guns out of anything since they were 2 or 3 years old, and they certainly weren't getting exposed to guns from TV, movies, or video at home or in preschool. It seems hopeless to try to stop the fascination most boys have with guns.

    We are clear with our son that we don't like guns or anything else designed to hurt people or animals. We acknowledge that guns are used to kill animals for food, which he has seen anyway since he since went on a family shooting trip to Ireland just before turning 4 (not in the field of course at that age, but he saw the men go out with the guns, and saw the guns cleaned and the birds cooked for dinner). He seems to be smart and sensitive enough to understand the difference. In fact the last time I said, "I don't like guns," he challenged me, "But what if it's killing animals for food?"

    Guns may also be used to humanely euthanize large animals and have their uses on farms, ranches and other outlying areas. When I lived in the country, I watched the neighboring rancher shoot the steer that filled our freezer and our dinner plates for the rest of the year. In the fall, if the deer population was quite high, my father would shoot a deer or two for the venison, otherwise the deer would slowly starve for lack of food in the winter.

    We live in SF, our hunting relations live in Los Angeles and England, and none of us keeps guns in the U.S. much less in a U.S. city. The hunting guns are stored with friends in the English countryside, where they are subject to strict gun control laws.

    I am sure our son will want to go on the annual UK/Ireland shooting trips when he gets older, and an uncle or grandfather will have to teach him about safe and appropriate gun use. I'd rather he weren't interested at all, but if he is, I want him to sate his curiosity in the hands of responsible adults who love him and care about the kind of person he grows up to be. I also would rather that if he is exposed to guns, that exposure occur in a place that has rigorous gun control rather than the U.S. free-for-all and its attendant violence. (Yes I saw Bowling for Columbine.)

    I hope the mention of killing animals for food does not turn into a launching pad for an animal rights debate. I guess the point I want to make is that the whole gun topic may not be as simple as my own standard "guns bad" kneejerk reaction. As our children get older, we have to trust their intelligence and the efficacy of our own efforts to ensure that they know right from wrong. It is funny how so often liberals pride ourselves on our ability to see issues in shades of gray, but on some subjects like guns, many of us can be as black and white in our thinking as we caricature conservatives to be.

    That said it is absolutely appalling that a first grader would have access to a gun and bring it to school. Schools should NEVER have to deal with such nightmares. It's amazing schools get any teaching done at all with all the crazy side issues they have to deal with due to lack of parental competence. Unfortunately, I don't see how we can prevent these situations as long as politicians live in fear of the National Rifle Association and parents are not taking proper care of their children's basic safety.

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  11. The parents should be arrested and the children should be removed from that household PERMANENTLY.

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  12. About the school incident:
    I concur that the blame is exclusively with the negligent parents. I worked at a school here in San Francisco where a student (a first or second grader) brought a loaded gun to school in his backpack. This was about 15 years ago (maybe more). The 911 call was caught by local media who immediately called the school for more information. The first question they uniformly asked was the racial background of the child (who happened to be white). They didn't seem interested in the circumstances of the incident. The boy had been brought to school by his mother's boyfriend and had grabbed the boyfriend's backpack instead of his own. He didn't know he had it in his pack until latter in the day. Scary, yes! but not the fault of the school....I also had a student bring a hunting knife to school in his backpack, again taken from his home. When parents leave weapons where children can pick them up intentionally or not, they are to blame.

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  13. You can't stress about kids playing with weapon-like things too much. I'm not sure I'd say it's natural, but at this point, it seems universal. Kind of like fast-food or Southpark, if you make too big a deal about it, you miss the real issues. But it is kind of rude to point a toy gun at an adult and say 'i'm going to shoot you." So it's really just about manners.

    I think having a real gun in the house is a terrible idea.

    A long long time ago i was in the military and practiced on the firing range as part of my training. I was stressed beforehand and thought I'd hate it. It was actually a lot of fun and learning the safety rules was a great experience. (i'm female, btw). I haven't shot a gun since.

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  14. Does anyone think this incident is particular to public school versus private school? I can't help but think this wouldn't happened in a private school. Thoughts?

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  15. I wonder if you all ask parents of your kids' playdates whether they have a gun in the house before you send your kid there? Don't assume the answer is no, just because we're in SF. I've gotten a yes response from private school families. Also think about what you will do or say when you do get a yes answer.

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  16. I think it's one thing to have a gun in the house, under lock and key, and another to have a gun in the house that is easily accessible to children. It is the parents' responsibility to make sure the children and anyone who comes into their home are safe, and keeping their weapons protected is one thing that is required. I hope I know the families my kids are visiting well enough to know whether or not they'd have guns, and if they did, whether or not they are caring for them properly.

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  17. 9:13 -
    you *can* help it. you're choosing not to, or you're choosing to rile up people. i'm not anti-private school. my child is going to one. private school will not protect your child from the world's ills, nor will the suburbs. please see the numerous other posts on private vs. public schools.

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  18. Thank you, 10:38.

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  19. 9:13pm:

    I think other commenters have addressed your issue, but I'd like to add a personal ancedote. I attended private high school. Although no one brought a gun to school, there were any number of unpleasant items of contraband and difficult situations within the school. And twice while students were in session, there were instances of violence directly in front of the school. During one of these, bullets were shot into the building.

    The school was not in a particularly "dangerous" neighborhood, either. In short: real life goes about its business and disturbing and terrible things happen everywhere.

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  20. 9:13 - I don't think this kind of incident, or any kind of violence related incident, is necessarily less likely to happen in private school, but I suspect the public in general may be less likely to hear about it if it happens in a private school.

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  21. Even I will acknowledge that totally ****ed-up families are unlikely to be found in private schools, since private schools strive to screen them out. We can assume that a totally ****ed-up family is a given when a kid finds a gun around the house and pops it into his backpack.

    It's interesting that in the various school shooting horrors, most of them are in middle-class schools; almost none in inner-city schools serving low-income children of color, though. There was one -- I think in Cleveland -- but it was one of those Bill Gates-funded small schools that are supposed to solve all the problems of inner-city schools.

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  22. I don't know if the private school families have any less guns than public school families, but does it really matter? When you dig deep about possible dangers for your child, there are so many "what if scenarios" that you could be driven crazy if you focus too much on it. What if one of the families you have just arranged a playdate with, has a large dog that bites? What if there is a crazed ex-partner stalking the parent of your kid's friend? What if the home isn't child-proofed? The scenarios are simply endless. Bottom line - I believe that whether you go public or private, it is important that you know the families that your kid is hanging out with and that you develop trusting relationships within your school community.

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  23. And no matter how much we worry, our kids are in far more danger riding in the car with us.

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  24. Especially when we pull a britney and forget to buckle their car seat like I did the other day. A very bad mom moment!

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  25. This is a near-duplicate of a comment on the thread above:

    I'm working on a new project, a "don't-call-it-a-blog" forum on www.examiner.com . They're doing what they simply call Examiners on different topics, and mine is -- ta-da -- San Francisco schools. It's been up and running for about three hours now. One of the posts addresses school violence, in response to the Page 1 story in today's Chronicle. The other is an update on the K process that links to this blog and Vicki Symonds' recent post.

    http://tinyurl.com/5yb3aa

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  26. There was a paragraph in yesterday's Examiner about the loaded, semi-automatic weapon that we taken from a student at Lowell High School, who was carrying it in his waistband. Frightening!

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  27. Correction on the Lowell anecdote! It was NOT a Lowell student. It was some continuation school class meeting at Lowell in the evening -- a student in that class. (The press needs to be more emphatic about making these distinctions.)

    From the Chron story:
    **
    He (the perp) was not a regular daytime student at Lowell.

    In the evenings, students from all over the city who are behind in their studies attend classes at the Sunset neighborhood school to make up credits required for graduation, Blythe said. The arrested student was part of that credit recovery program, she added.
    **
    http://tinyurl.com/4fraww

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