A few words about Nathan Entingh's hand gun.
Meaning, you should understand, not a gun you hold in your hand, but rather, the hand itself, thumb cocked and index finger extended to resemble a pistol. One afternoon late last month, Entingh, who goes to school in Columbus, Ohio, was goofing off in science class when he raised such a "hand gun," pointed it at another kid's head, and said, "Boom." Not a good thing to do and Entingh, who is 10, certainly should have been reprimanded. Instead, he was suspended for three days. His father, Paul, says he's been told that if it happens again, the next suspension may be permanent.
Nobody involved has accused the boy of making a serious threat, posing a serious danger or, indeed, of being anything except an average adolescent. Doesn't matter. Ohio, you see, has a "zero tolerance" policy toward guns or look-alike guns in schools, "zero tolerance" being the favored new millennium approach to keeping schools safe. As in, remove human judgment from the equation. Pretend all infractions are created equal. Treat the girl who brings Midol to class like a heroin dealer. Treat the kindergartner who kisses a classmate on the cheek like a sexual predator.
And send Nathan Entingh home because, like virtually every American boy who ever existed has done at one time or another, he pointed his finger and made shooting sounds. If you think that's crazy, you probably don't want to hear about the Maryland second-grader who was suspended last year for chewing a Pop Tart into the shape of a pistol.
Surely we will all sleep more peacefully tonight knowing our schools are safe from pointing fingers and Pop Tart violence.
In the meantime, laws protecting Americans from real guns are marked by an appalling flaccidity that countenances firearms in bars, churches, schools, backyards -- Florida seems poised to arm teachers -- essentially every nook and cranny of daily life. There is not simply something wrong with that picture. There is something bizarre, something that speaks and reeks of the irresolution of unserious people, unable to grapple thoughtfully with, and devise intelligent solutions for, the problems that press us. Nathan is only the latest person to pay the price for that failure. His suspension is manifestly unfair.
Consider: The average kid spends about 30 hours a week in front of the television. By the age of 18, researchers say, he or she has seen 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders. Maybe you're skeptical of those statistics. Maybe you suspect researchers of using a model that draws no distinction between Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff and a shootout on "Breaking Bad." Fair enough. Cut the numbers in half. That's still a lot of violence, most of it gun-related. And we haven't even mentioned video games yet.
The argument here is not that video games or violent television "cause" school violence. Rather, it's that there is a stark disconnect when as a society we spend so much time making guns seem deeply cool, darkly dangerous and ever present -- and then punish a child for being enticed by them. Nathan is confused by what happened to him and well he should be. His confusion reflects our confusion, our inability to find consensus.
There are many things we could do if we were serious about combating school violence. We could beef up mental-health services and in-school counseling for troubled kids, we could require real gun-safety training and real background checks for gun owners, and we could mandate they carry insurance on their weapons.
Instead, we crack down on boys making finger guns and shooting sounds.
A reporter from the Columbus Dispatch asked Nathan about his suspension. He said, "I was thinking it was dumb."
It says something that a 10-year-old can see what many of us obviously cannot.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a Miami Herald columnist.