(FOX 25 / MyFoxBoston.com) - John Dillinger broke out of prison in 1934 by brandishing a fake gun. The guards didn't question whether the poke in their back was an actual steel barrel. They let public enemy number one go free after being threatened with a gun fabricated from a wood wash board and black shoe polish. You should not be critical of the guards, it was a dimly lit cell block and Dillinger had already killed a cop in a shoot-out following a bank robbery.
However, you should harshly judge any teacher, teacher's aide, or school administrator who reprimands a 5th grader for going to school with a cut piece of plain white paper that remotely resembles a gun. In addition, any well-meaning preschooler who fastens a gun from Legos during playtime should not be sent home with a note threatening expulsion. Once again, there's been a national tragedy that has caused most adults to lose any sense of common sense. Nowhere is this more evident than in our schools.
I remember performing a re-enactment of the battle on the Lexington Common on the front lawn of Worcester's Thorndyke Road School in April of 1974. Our moms sewed costumes for both Minute Men and Redcoats. We even used toy muskets that fired those rolled red paper caps. It was a great performance and living history lesson as we prepared for the nation's bicentennial. I'm afraid that if this was attempted today, the local SWAT team would descend upon the school, guns drawn with real bullets and not rolled red paper caps.
My point here is that we pay people to teach our kids and to keep them safe. We expect that they're smart enough to know the difference between an innocent gesture by a child and a real threat from a troubled kid. But like the guards who released Dillinger, it seems that our educators don't know the difference between a real threat and an actual toy.
There is one exception to my contention: Erick Naumann. Remember? He's the Everett High School principal who produced "The Naumannator" video. It showed him walking through the school's halls wearing a leather coat and dark glasses. That image was mixed with scenes from the sci-fi thriller "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." There were shots of flames tearing through a playground and Arnold Schwarzenegger's character, a mechanical killing machine covered with human skin, also walking through a hallway. Principal Naumann has been disciplined for his poor judgment. Hopefully he's learned his lesson. The kids with the paper and Lego guns also learned a lesson; sometimes you're the victim of someone else's poor judgment.