As yet, it’s not exactly criminal for a kid to play with his food in Texas, but it could result in his suspension from classes and significant disciplinary practices at school, thanks to the so-called “Pop-Tart gun” laws enacted across the country after a Maryland second-grader “was suspended for two days in March 2013 for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun.” The now 9-year-old’s story became “a rallying point for gun rights advocates” after his parents insisted that the suspension constituted a “gross overreaction.” And any white collar crime attorney between San Antonio and the Red River in Texas knows that Texans, of all Americans, would find these kinds of statutes distasteful. Now one Texas lawmaker is trying to correct it.
“Texas students shouldn’t lose instruction time for holding gun-shaped Pop-Tart snacks at school,” said Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City. “This bill will fix this.” His proposed legislation would “prohibit schools from punishing students who use their hands, playthings, and even pastry items to mimic firearms.” A white collar crime attorney in San Antonio would be aware of the inconsistency in a state that very nearly encourages its citizens to be armed yet punishes its students for learning about this particular value through the natural and developmentally appropriate mechanism: play. Guillen’s bill “would also protect students through the fifth grade who play with toy guns or draw or possess pictures of guns.”
It’s a conflicting and complicated message for Texans to manage, especially Texas teachers and educators. On the one hand, childhood interest in firearms and weapons has been linked to increased gang membership and criminal activity as adults. But on the other hand, the freedom to own and responsibly carry firearms is a right that is staunchly protected, both in private and public spheres. About 36% of Texans owned guns, as of 2007, so it does seem counterintuitive for such harsh punishments to exist in schools for re-enacting through play what is such a public and private value.
The problem with Guillen’s bill, however, is that it takes power away from schools, politicians like Sen. John Whitmire say. It “has the right intention but could have unintended consequences.” Letting common sense guide disciplinary practices and leaving it to “local administrators and school campus administrators to weigh the consequences” is Whitmire’s stance on the bill.
But what about the school-to-prison pipeline? Although a white collar crime attorney in San Antonio usually sees more cases involving fraud and less involving armed robbery, it’s certainly conceivable that harsh punishment around “Pop-Tart guns” in early years in the public sphere of schools could influence the association students develop between firearms and their value. Can schools, within the law, teach children in Texas that gun ownership may very well be a tenuous privilege in the future, and one that should be wielded responsibly? Or will legislation around mandatory school policies dictate fear and alarm around the use of firearms in any circumstances? How can Texans walk the line between the values of Constitutional rights, public safety, and encouragement of children to stay in school and respect the educational system? Guillen thinks he has the answer, but others aren’t so sure.