OVERLAND PARK, KANSAS (November 15, 2019) — Condemning draconian zero tolerance school policies bereft of common sense, The Rutherford Institute is demanding that a Kansas City area school district seek the exoneration of a middle school student who pointed an imaginary “finger gun” at classmates, resulting in her being handcuffed, arrested, charged with a felony for threatening a mass shooting, and criminally prosecuted. Incredibly, the girl with the "imaginary" gun was punished more harshly than students who brought actual guns to school in their backpacks.

In a letter to the Shawnee Mission (Kansas) School District superintendent, Rutherford Institute attorneys assert that the overreaction by Westridge Middle School’s resource officer and principal to the finger gun incident undermines the public’s confidence in safety measures and the ability of school officials to distinguish between a dangerous act and one that is simply childish. The hand-gesture, which involves an individual using their hand to mimic an imaginary handgun, is commonly referred to as a “finger gun” and is widely seen throughout popular culture, in movies, TV shows, music videos, and on social media. Indeed, the finger gun gesture was even employed by President Obama in a humorous 2015 promotional video for his health-care plan. More recently, President Trump used the finger gun gesture in a May 2018 speech.

“To harshly penalize a child for using her hand to point an imaginary finger gun — mimicking a widely-used gesture in popular culture, including by present and past presidents of the United States — sends a conflicting, confusing, and hypocritical message at a time when schools are wrestling with legitimate concerns about violence on and off campus involving actual weapons,” said constitutional attorney John W Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “We all want to keep the schools safe, but it is far better to see something credible done about actual threats, rather than this ongoing, senseless targeting of childish behavior that poses no threat, causes no disruption, and results in young people being suspended, expelled, and even arrested under school policies that punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor the so-called infraction may be.”

The incident arose during a classroom discussion at Westridge Middle School on September 18, 2019, when a young girl was asked, theoretically, if she could kill any five people in the room, whom she would pick. The 13-year-old girl then pointed to four fellow students and herself, using her hand to mimic a “finger gun.” She was subsequently sent to the principal’s office, where the school resource officer recommended that she be arrested. With the principal’s approval, the school resource officer then took the girl outside, handcuffed and arrested her, transported her to a juvenile detention center, and charged her with a felony.

Contrast this with the punishment meted out to two 13-year-old students in the same school district who, the previous month, brought actual guns to school in their backpacks and were charged with misdemeanors, a far less serious punishment than the felony charge levied against the young girl for wielding an imaginary finger gun. Ironically, while this young girl is being punished harshly for supposedly violating the school district’s policies on bullying and intimidation, the girl was allegedly herself being subjected to bullying and intimidation.

The Rutherford Institute is a nonprofit civil-liberties organization and provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated.

The Rutherford Institute’s letter to Shawnee Mission School District is available at www.rutherford.org.

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