Law over common sense

In grade school, we were introduced to rules. Don't push, don't shout, don't call names, don't interrupt, don't poke, don't stick things up your nose, don't spit, don't touch, no pinching, no cussing, no bouncing, don't stick things up others' noses, and don't talk back.

When we grew a little older, a three-minute “School House Rock” video taught us that there's something more persuasive than the rules written on construction paper in Mrs. Smith's kindergarten room. They're called laws. Don't speed, don't smoke, don't steal, don't harass, don't drive drunk and – again – don't talk back.

The number of federal criminal laws today is almost incalculable. In fact, the exact number can't really be pinned down, according to the library of Congress, primarily because of the creation of new laws and laws created to amend or repeal old ones. In the 1980's, there was a push to have Congress revise the criminal code, which at the time took up more than 23,000 pages with countless laws. When Moses came off the mountain, there were only ten.

While I don't argue that laws a necessity in protecting the civil liberties of individuals, there came a time when I think most of us wondered if there are too many laws. Laws created to dictate what most of us consider to be common sense (i.e. helmet laws, gun storage laws and in my opinion, child labor laws).

But common sense is dead. Case in point, The Washington Times recently reported that the Florida Senate Education Committee unanimously passed a bill that would allow children in public schools to simulate firearms while playing “pretend” without a risk of disciplinary action or being turned over to the criminal or juvenile justice system. The bill, colloquially known as the “Pop-tart Bill,” is in response to an incident when a 7-year-old boy in a Maryland school district was suspended for chewing his strawberry Pop-tart into the shape of a handgun. I know what you're thinking... I'm not a fan of strawberry either.

As with most overreactions from public school administrators who align their decisions with a “zero tolerance” policy, the boy's dismissal caused a firestorm of input from people across the country. So Florida legislators created a bill that would prevent this type of overzealous knee-jerk reaction. After all, kids will be kids, right? And why should a kid be penalized for using harmless imagination?

It kills me that every time there's a so-called “problem,” someone feels the need to create a new law. Prior to the Pop-tart incident, most would have assumed a 7-year-old boy pretending to shoot a gun is something to be expected; an incident where a little common sense would go a long way. Yet, we feel the need to create laws to override policies – policies initially put in place because of new laws. It's the cycle of overbearing, unnecessary red tape that keeps kids from running a lemonade stand without a peddler's permit and teenagers from cutting hair without a cosmetology license.

Our alleged need to create laws instead of relying on common sense has turned innocents into criminals. In the case of the 7-year-old who chewed a Pop-tart into the shape of a gun, it's a law protecting his right to be a kid. However, there should be no need to create a law where common sense will do.

It's a shame what they say is true. Common sense really isn't too common.

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