A sensible ruling on weapons

Published 11:43 am Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Daily Herald editorial

One of the more ridiculous manifestations of our society’s quest for absolute safety has been the prosecution of children for bringing so-called weapons to school. While there is no doubt that schools should be a safe zone, they’re also a place where children make honest mistakes and ought to be educated about those mistakes rather than prosecuted. It was refreshing to have the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturn one such over-zealous prosecution this week.

The case involved a 16-year-old student in central Minnesota who was found with a three-and-a-half-inch knife in his jacket pocket. He was expelled for a year and convicted of a felony. School officials argued that the student had the knife for self-protection. On appeal, the court agreed with the student that he didn’t intend the knife to be a weapon. Indeed, the court noted, “if having a point and a sharp serrated edge were sufficient to find that a knife was designed as a weapon, most steak knives would qualify.”

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There was a time when many people carried a folding knife as a handy, daily tool. And as the court seemed to suggest, there’s a big difference between a useful tool and a weapon. Unfortunately, the kind of blanket rules that our society loves to impose remove judgment from the equation and tend to presume guilt. In our rush to create utterly safe zones, it is easiest to ban almost everything, an easy solution but not always a wise one.

It is unfortunate that it took an appellate court to resolve this recent case properly — but at least a sensible decision was eventually reached.