Toy guns in schools

This fall, a sixth-grader at Bret Harte Middle School in Oakland’s Laurel District was apparently taken to the emergency room after another student shot him in the face with a BB gun while they were in class.

The boy was not seriously hurt, but he could have been. (The girl who injured him was suspended and will possibly face expulsion.)

At Hillcrest Elementary School, a K-8 school in the Oakland hills, three children were suspended for three days last month after they were caught playing with an Airsoft gun at lunchtime.

Beverly Rothenberg, Hillcrest’s principal, said the school held two assemblies on the subject. One parent, who is a police officer in San Francisco, told the kids that some criminals are painting real guns to look like toys, and that police are on guard against any kind of firearm, whether it’s real or imitation, Rothenberg said.

“People need to know and students need to know that toy guys and imitation firearms are dangerous,” she added.

Bret Harte’s principal, Teresa Williams, sent home a letter Friday about what happened and how it was addressed. Williams said the school is creating a system for students to anonymously report the presence of real or imitation weapons — or anything else that makes them uncomfortable.

Despite the incident, some kids still seem to consider BB guns to be relatively harmless toys, said Bret Harte parent Celia Davis.

In fact, Davis said, she knows of one student who put one on his Christmas list afterward. (A boy after Ralphie‘s own heart. Doesn’t he know he’ll shoot his eye out?)

Do you think kids and parents are aware of the risks associated with toy guns, and bringing them to school? How often does this happen, in spite of the rules, and do kids feel comfortable reporting it? How should school principals handle the situation?

images, from top to bottom, by macwagon and Michael Vance 1’s sites at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    Wow… I may become physically ill if I keep thinking about weapons on school grounds.

    Way back when I was in school, the janitor/busdriver taught hunter safety every fall. On Saturdays, on the school grounds. In November and December, kids bragged about getting their first deer. I never wanted to hunt, but my sister became a local celebrity at age 12 when she got her first deer before noon on the first day of the season, with one shot “clean through the heart”.

    But *NOBODY* would have brought a gun (or any weapon, toy or real) onto school property during the week. It was unthinkable.

    After the janitor/busdriver had kicked the kid out of hunter safety class – permanently (and without that hunter safety certificate, a kid couldn’t get any kind of game tags before 18) – and after the principal had taken the weapon, and paddled the kid, and expelled her/him…

    After all that happened at school, the kid’s parents would have had their turn at discipline!

    I love living in an urban area for a lot of reasons, but this is city-dwellers behaving like the idiots that country folk think they are. Nothing else could, but this makes me nostalgic for those (ignorant, bigotted, mean, small-minded, etc.) country folk, who at least understood the risks and power of weapons and the consequences of failure in teaching children safety and respect for life.

  • rocky

    I’m in favor of completely harsh consequences for kids who bring toy weapons to school. This can’t be tolerated and their parents should suffer some onerous hassle as well. There should be improved written contracts that detail acceptable/unacceptable behavior and kids and their parents should sign them each school year. This really bugs me.

  • BH parent

    I just want to clarify that the “BB gun” used in the Bret Harte incident was not the kind of gun in the illustration that shoots lead bearings, but a plastic gun that shoots light weight plastic pellets. It could have damaged the boy’s eye had it been directly fired into his open eye at close range. However, it could not cause the kind of severe injury that an actual BB gun can.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for the information, BH Parent. Had I known that, I might have chosen a different photo.

  • Catherine

    What are parents thinking? Why aren’t parents monitoring what their children bring to school?

    Hell, we’re having trouble with the marshmallow shooter my daughter wants for her birthday because of the “gun” implications.

    I know there are responsible people who give toy guns to their children for gifts, but there needs to be more parental oversight of children who are given these kinds of “toys.”

  • Nextset

    Guns aren’t toys, neither are table saws.

    Of particular concern are toy guns the look like real weapons. Brandishing one can get a child shot in this day.

    It would be best if suitable children were given gun training. Especially the girls. These kids will likely need gun skills in their lifetimes. I was shooting bottles of a log at Russian River when I was 5 – using rifles and handguns. We kept guns in the house for self defense throughout my childhood. I have a handgun and carry permit as an adult.

    So I know what damage a gun could do. In the ’60s I remember my father being called out at night to repair gunshot injuries from parties. I never got to go to those parties. Never got to do target practice parties. It would have been fun. They had a lot of fun in the 50’s and 60’s in Oakland. I understand that some of the target shooting parties were at nightclubs on Telegraph. I wasn’t allowed to go to the nightclubs either.

    But we all had motorcycles, and those weren’t safe either. Don’t have a cycle now, but I’m glad I learned to ride one as a teen. Still have the cycle endorsement on the license. I used to take a cycle to high school – along with friends.

    My point is guns don’t kill people, nutty people who probably can’t legally touch a gun anyway kill people. Armed people can save themselves from victimization.

    Teens shouldn’t have guns in public (that means school also) when not on a gun range and supervised by a rangemaster.

  • Virginia Taylor

    Electronic (computers & peripherals) waste collection event:

    Please spread the word, come and support Bret Harte Middle School for this special event (SLWRP) this Saturday, October 25th (9 to 4). Thank you.

    Andrew McMaster, Pres. BHMS Student Recycling Committee (RARU); V. Taylor, Faculty Advisor

    P.S. Where can I email a flier?

  • Katy Murphy

    You can send it to me, at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

    For future reference — with more notice before an event (preferably two weeks, at least), you can submit information to our community calendar editor at tribcal@oaklandtribune.com.

  • Catherine


    Why weren’t these incidents reported in some fashion at a regularly scheduled Principal’s Meeting?

    The no gun / no toy policy could have then been reviewed in an assembly at my child’s school.

    This lack of communication is a huge issue. When you have good school districts, there is a general degree of knowledge of trends so they do not become issues.