Who’s the victim here?

Published 12:13 pm Saturday, September 5, 2009

There’s no doubt that children and guns are a bad mix. Toss it all in a school setting and you get real trouble.

However, an incident in Montgomery this week illustrates why such situations should be carefully considered on their own merits rather than met with an iron-clad, “zero-tolerance” penalty.

School officials kicked a 5-year-old out of kindergarten this week when the youngster came to school with an unloaded .38-caliber pistol he found in a relative’s car. He showed the gun to a friend, who told authorities.

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It’s possible the child, who may not have even known the gun was real, will be expelled from school.

In any event, it’s not at all likely the student brought it to school to harm anyone.

Certainly this is a serious matter. But who is at fault?

A 5-year-old who appears to have brought something he found to school to show off?

Or the adult who left a dangerous weapon where a child could get his hands on it, and who was so careless in securing the weapons that they apparently didn’t realize the child had taken it?

School officials must carefully weigh the punishment for this youngster, whose life should not be negatively affected by suspension and expulsion before his educational career even begins.

A better tack would be to make the incident instructive rather than destructive.

The rules here are clear: No guns at school. But, at 5 years old, can you hold a child responsible when it’s not likely he knew what he was doing was as wrong and dangerous as it actually was?

Further, the case should provide an impetus to lawmakers to consider penalties for adults who handle weapons so cavalierly that youngsters can get them and get into trouble — or worse.

Someone – someone older than 5 – should be held responsible and accountable.

This likely won’t be the last time this ever happens but it may be the last time it happens without injury.