Last week, a ten-year-old Alexandria, Virginia, boy was arrested and charged with brandishing a weapon, according to The Washington Examiner. This is a very serious charge that will stick with the boy. The “weapon” that the fifth-grader brought to school was a plastic toy gun with a bright orange cap on the end of the barrel. He never threatened anyone with it, and never pointed it at anyone.
This boy now has a criminal record. For the rest of his life, he may have to disclose that he was arrested, even if his juvenile file is sealed for most other purposes—just for bringing a toy gun to school.
After the recent school tragedy, it is understandable that school administrators are on edge about guns in schools, but it does not excuse them from being rational.
There have been a number of incidents involving fake or imaginary guns in schools recently. Kids have been suspended from school for bubble guns, Nerf guns, Lego guns, pictures of guns, and fingers pointed like a gun and saying “pow,” just to name a few. One thing those incidents have in common is that the school handled them internally. It can be debated whether the schools overreacted by suspending the students, but at least they didn’t call the police.
A police record can have a damaging affect on a person’s life. This charge can potentially affect the high school jobs he can get, the places he can live, and the college he attends. This isolated incident may even affect the jobs he can get after college; especially if he chooses to be a teacher, doctor, lawyer, law enforcement officer, or join the military.
Does it make sense to potentially alter this ten-year-old boy’s future in so serious a manner, all because he brought a toy gun to school? If he attempted to pass the gun off as real and used it in a threatening manner, that would be a different matter, but adults and kids generally also know that an orange cap means it is a toy.
However, it was still foolish of the child to bring this particular toy to school. A reprimand or other internal school disciplinary action would be in order, but, in this case, there is nothing to suggest that he harbored any criminal intent or meant to harm anyone.
Everything that we do should serve a purpose. What purpose does arresting and charging this ten-year-old child serve? It doesn’t protect anyone—no one was ever in danger. It may deter the boy and his classmates from bringing toy guns to school—but a suspension would have as well.
The criminal law must be reserved for serious wrong-doers with criminal intent, not foolish children who bring their toys to school. Charges like these needlessly label children as criminals and may set them up for unwarranted struggles in life or perhaps, if they spend time in jail associating with and befriending real criminals, a life of real crime.