Editorial: Incident requires decisive action by school

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It was only an airsoft gun, a “toy.”

But what if it wasn’t?

He was just a young athlete, who made a dumb choice.

But what if he wasn’t?

The “what ifs” are many in the case of a Taos student who took an airsoft pellet gun out of his vehicle on school property last week, pointed it at other students and fired.

But bottom line, the student who chose to turn that “toy” gun on teammates needs to be disciplined, and the school must ensure a zero tolerance policy toward such behavior.

Some Taoseños will say the young man was just messing around and being immature. “Boys will be boys,” especially in the country, they’ll say. And after all an airsoft gun doesn’t cause serious injuries, they’ll say.

But what if the pellet from the gun had hit a dozen inches higher and struck another young wrestler in the eye instead of in his arm? Then the one who fired might be looking at assault charges and time in juvenile detention instead of suspension from the wrestling team.

What if the parents of the kids who were hit by pellets from the airsoft gun weren’t such nice, accommodating parents who don’t want to press charges? Then the school might be facing a much deeper inquiry into how they handled this situation.

And what if the kid in this case hadn’t been a promising athlete? What if he had been a student with no such social clout? Would the school district have been slow to discipline him?

What if the student in this case wasn’t basically a young man who just made a dumb decision to pull out a “toy” gun and fire it at teammates? What if he was a kid who had bullied other students repeatedly and had been allowed to get away with it time and time again? Would that have changed how seriously the adults around him took the airsoft shooting?

What if the school’s resource officer had seen the student pull out the airsoft gun and aim it at others? What if there had been an armed response by law enforcement?

Maybe 10 years ago a toy gun was just a toy gun.

But that was before mass shootings in school after school after school after school in recent years. There were 64 such shootings in 2015 alone. A deadly attack at Aztec High School happened just two months ago. Mass shootings, in general and in schools, are so frequent we struggle to remember when and where they happened and which ones were worse than the others.

This has heightened awareness and caution in schools about guns.

Even “toy” guns that look like real ones.

In a rural town like Taos, it isn’t unusual for most families to have guns – for hunting, for protection, for sport. Families know those guns aren’t toys.

But the job of parents and schools is to protect students from threats on school property, including from a pellet shot out of a “toy” airsoft gun by another student.

The athlete who chose to use the airsoft gun is not a bad kid. He just made a bad mistake. Still, school officials must quickly hold a disciplinary hearing and swiftly make it clear they will not tolerate such behavior from any student.

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