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It sounds like serious business. They called it a “level 2 lookalike firearm.” They said that he pointed it “execution style” at a fellow student.

But Nathan Entingh is ten years old, the “lookalike firearm” was his finger, and the other student didn’t even see it—a teacher did. And it’s seriously bizarre that officials at Devonshire Alternative Elementary School would take this behavior seriously enough to suspend Nathan three days for, well, being a kid.

What were these officials thinking? According to the Columbus Dispatch, school principal Patricia Price is cracking down on fake firearms, the rules are the rules, and Nathan was put on notice. “The kids were told, ‘If you don’t stop doing this type of stuff, there would be consequences,’” school spokesman Jeff Warner said.  “It’s just been escalating.”

To be sure, teachers need to be able to prevent kids from disrupting class. But a three day suspension? Wouldn’t a time-out, maybe even an after-school detention, have been more appropriate?

This is not the first time that school officials have overreacted to invisible gun play. Last March, Josh Welch, a seven year-old (yes, seven) student at Park Elementary School in Baltimore was accused of nibbling a rectangular, strawberry-filled pastry into a gun-like shape, then stating “bang, bang.” School officials were sufficiently disturbed by this event to remove Josh from class and banish him from the premises for two days. More recently, we wrote about eight-year old Jordan Bennett, who was sent home after administrators at Harmony Community School in Harmony, Florida concluded that his use of a pretend gun was an act of violence.

One is tempted to laugh off incidents like this, but suspensions involving even imaginary weapons are no laughing matter. In the wake of the Newtown massacre, a suspension involving a “level 2 lookalike firearm” could doom a child’s future academic and career prospects before they really begin.

Purging the schoolhouse of pretend guns may be the politically correct thing to do as part of promoting a “gun-free culture,” but it risks doing far more harm to children than any level 2 lookalike firearm. Ironically, the most mature response to this whole affair may be Nathan’s own: “I was thinking it was dumb.”

The Heritage Foundation’s project USA vs. YOU spotlights the flood of criminal laws threatening our liberties. Explore more stories of overcriminalization and find out what you can do to reverse this trend.