There’s probably no better example of how a “one-size-fits-all” federal policy does not work than the opprobrious law that tells Montana schools what gun policies they shall adopt and enforce.
The issue got some well-deserved attention this week after a Columbia Falls High School student was regrettably suspended for having an unloaded hunting rifle in the trunk of her car while parked at school.
Demari DeReu, 16, was immediately suspended and faces an upcoming expulsion hearing based on district policy, which is itself based on a policy crafted by the Montana Schools Boards Association. That policy, in turn, was written to accommodate the 1994 federal Gun-Free Schools Act, which says states that receive federal education funding must require districts to have policies expelling for at least one calendar year any student who has brought a firearm to school.
Columbia Falls school officials have said they will not recommend expulsion in cases like DeReu’s and that the time she has spent suspended from school will count toward her punishment. So let’s not lay blame at the district’s feet. They seem to be taking a reasonable approach.
But why is the federal government dictating Montana school policies on guns in the first place? What may make sense in Chicago or Los Angeles doesn’t necessarily make it so in Montana, where guns and hunting are beyond common. We’d venture to say that only a couple decades ago, guns openly displayed on rear window rifle racks could be found in high school parking lots.
This is a state, after all, where Gov. Brian Schweitzer can show off a new handgun at an Inter Lake editorial board meeting, and no one bats an eye.
Sure, school officials can and should have policies that prohibit guns in the vicinity of a school, but they should also have the ability to apply discretion and common sense in enforcing those policies. In this case, the most notable element is the total absence of ill-intent and DeReu’s complete candor in trying to correct her mistake.
She went to school officials in an attempt to do the right thing, to make them aware of the rifle in her trunk and her desire not to violate any school policy. She got suspended instead, and now faces potential expulsion. Talk about the mixed message that sends to students!
Common sense should, and we hope will, prevail: DeReu’s time suspended should count as the expulsion, with no further punishment and no black mark on her record. This young woman should not suffer for an innocent infraction of a policy that should be determined entirely by local school officials who know her — with zip, zero, nada federal influence.
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