Pop-Tarts aren’t recommended as a source of nutrition, but in some parts of the U.S. they are a source of inspiration for legislators looking to change policies on guns and education.
A series of incidents have led defenders of the right to keep and bear arms to stand up for children who chew their breakfast pastries into the shape of a gun.
So-called Pop-Tart gun laws emerged in the U.S. in 2013, when a seven-year-old boy in Baltimore was suspended after he nibbled his snack (it wasn’t actually the Pop-Tart brand of toaster pastry) into the shape of a gun and apparently directed it at his classmates.
Joshua Welch was kicked out of school for two days, sparking a debate about gun rights and zero tolerance policies in schools. His second grade teacher said he was not suspended for chewing his breakfast into a gun, but for a pattern of disruptive behaviour. His parents fought to get the suspension scrubbed from his record and Joshua eventually changed schools.
The case prompted a Maryland state senator, J.B. Jennings, to introduce legislation aimed at ensuring no other child was disciplined for a Pop-Tart-type incident. The Reasonable School Discipline Act of 2013 sought to prohibit schools from suspending a student who had a picture of a gun or “any other object that resembles a gun but serves another purpose.”
Making a hand gesture resembling a gun doesn’t deserve a suspension either, according to the bill.
The bill noted that after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed in late 2012, there was a heightened concern about guns and schools.
But Jennings said some school officials had exercised questionable judgment and overreacted to incidents like the toaster pastry case.
“If we wait too long, this type of reaction will become the standard response by school administrators only serving to perpetuate fear amongst our young students, not to mention putting marks on permanent academic records that are neither appropriate nor warranted,” he said on his website at the time.
The proposed legislation referenced other students besides Joshua who had gotten in trouble. A five-year-old girl in Pennsylvania was suspended from kindergarten for telling her classmate she would use her Hello Kitty bubble gun on her and on herself.
She was examined by a psychologist to ensure she wasn’t a danger to anyone and then her suspension was reduced from 10 days to two.
Another example was a high school student in Arizona suspended for making the desktop background on his school laptop a picture of an AK-47.
The breakfast pastry-inspired bill in Maryland died at the committee stage, and a similar one in Oklahoma also stalled last year. But Oklahoma Senator Sally Kerns reintroduced the bill this week.
Some critics of the bills were opposed because they found them unnecessary and want to keep control of discipline in the hands of teachers and school boards, not state legislatures.
Supporters, though, say legislation is needed because schools are going too far with their zero tolerance policies and are imposing excessive punishments for behaviour that shouldn’t even be punishable in the first place.
Florida is the one state that has successfully passed a so-called Pop-Tart gun bill. Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law last June.
It allows students to wear clothing that depicts a gun, to use a writing utensil or their hands to simulate a gun, to draw a picture of a gun, to make a gun out of plastic building blocks, to have a toy gun if it’s less than five centimetres in length, and to brandish “a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm.”
Now Texas could be the next state to pass a Pop-Tart gun law. Representative Ryan Guillen is championing the cause and introduced a bill last month.
“I saw stories in the media about kids being taken out of class over something as silly as a Pop-Tart gun. I don’t want to see that happen,” he said in an email. He was not available for an interview.
“As unlikely as these incidents may seem, they actually happened. The bill is a proactive effort to prevent even the chance of a Texas student losing valuable instruction time due to an act of non-disruptive, non-threatening behaviour by a child,” said Guillen.
A new governor and legislature was just sworn in in Texas, meaning it will still be a few weeks until the bill is studied in committee and put to a vote.