Freedom of Speech? Not in High School!
October 28, 2014
Lyndon Johnson was president when I was in high school, so I can't claim much familiarity with modern instructional norms, but a case in Massachusetts reported on the Guns Save Lives website makes it clear that the Bill of Rights is not getting a lot of emphasis these days.
Tito Velez, a student at Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School in Taunton, Mass., was dressed up for a night out with his girlfriend. The pair grabbed some airsoft guns and posed for pictures taken by his father. Their gun handling was impeccable, with muzzles pointed to the floor and fingers correctly positioned off the triggers. This was not a case of youngsters aping a poster of some gangsta rappers; the photo shows some well-groomed teenagers posing in a living room with some distinctively non-lethal airsoft guns.
That would have all been fine if Velez had just kept the photos on his computer, but he posted them to Facebook. Authorities at the school saw them and suspended both teens for 10 days. In a plaintive Facebook posting, Velez said:
"I understand it was wrong to take a picture with guns but come on. My dad took the photos, in my house. The guns were pointed at the floor, on safety, mock mags in, and our fingers weren't on the trigger. We had a responsible adult and he isn't against Airsoft. He knows gun safety and he keeps my guns, i dont have them unless im out at the fields."
No, Tito, it's not wrong to take a picture with guns, airsoft or real, in your house or elsewhere. It's exercising your First Amendment rights, which were upheld for high school students in the Tinker decision when I was in high school in 1969. The notion that a school has the authority to police student speech outside school hours and off school grounds is preposterous even by today's extremely debased standards of civil liberty.
Let's make the disclaimer that the GSL site only mentions one side of this controversy, and perhaps there are circumstances here about which we don't know. But there have been enough cases of hysterical overreaction by school authorities that Velez' story is hardly beyond belief.
I've said it here before, and I'll reiterate it. I'm a lot more worried about the First Amendment than the Second, because while the right to bear arms has expanded in recent years (except in benighted spots like California or Connecticut), freedom of speech is being eroded a little every day in incidents like this one. The local school board needs to intervene to rein in its overzealous administrators and return Velez and his girlfriend to class.
Alternatively, every kid in that school should post a picture holding a gun. Let's see them throw them all out.