It's not funny

Sunday, November 5, 2006

The Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney's decision last month not to file charges against a 17-year-old Central High School student after the student allegedly wrote a note regarding a "pretend" shooting at the school was based on the burden of proof. Missouri law requires, in such cases, proof that the student actually intended to carry out the plan. Prosecutor Morley Swingle doesn't believe the facts support such a proof.

But the incident begs the question: Should a student who, even jokingly, comes up with a plan for a school shooting be admonished in any way?

In the years since the airplane skyjackings have been used for various purposes, including terrorism, the threshold of tolerance for such "jokes" has become lower and lower. The same goes for many other activities that could, if not for the joke, become serious threats to innocent lives.

Two thoughts come to mind in the wake of the incident at CHS:

First, school authorities can, as the prosecutor suggested, and should impose its own disciplinary measures on students who think shooting plots are funny.

Second, perhaps legislators should look at existing laws that cover similar situations and determine whether prosecutors should be given broader authority to bring charges when warranted.

Incidents of school shootings, students bringing firearms to schools and students "joking" about something that is so deadly serious all point to the need for tight rules and tough laws.

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