The zero-tolerance mania has claimed many victims, the first being common sense, quickly followed by reason, sound judgment and respect for authority. Now they’re going after potato cannons. Can these vital elements be removed from society without causing deep and lasting damage? It would not seem likely.
Before taking up Spud Guns, which are dear to my heart, it is worth remembering that there is no shortage of incidents in which this or that school administrator or chief of police mindlessly chants “zero tolerance” just prior to clubbing a citizen — usually a kid — for the most minor of supposed infractions. The other day a grade-schooler was disciplined for pointing an oak leaf at a fellow student. This no doubt taught the offender a lesson, though not the one desired. Unless this lad is a total dunce, he now knows a sizable portion of the adult population is helplessly insane.
How did America come to this? Columbine seems to have been a flashpoint; as mentioned before, one of my sons was kicked out of school for a week after defending a 15-year-old friend from an 18-year-old bully. Two glancing blows were thrown. The first officials to the scene were screaming about Columbine, as if there were a connection. Their minds had clearly been destabilized. They live in a state of unshakable panic. And their mania, in which massive meaning is accorded to meaningless events, is pervasive.
Some of us are reminded of the days when hallucinogenic drugs were in vogue. A devotee might spend hours divining universal law in the surface of a marshmallow, or in the way a centipede crossed a garden path. The ingestion of a Twinkie was accorded cosmic significance. The next day, of course, would bring a return to sanity (most of the time, anyway). Not so for apostles of zero-tolerance policies. Their madness is not only encoded into law, but is considered a sign of a higher sensibility. And so kids who point oak leaves, or forget to remove a cake cutter from their car before parking at school, are treated as criminals. Kids live in a state of lockdown. There is very little they can do that won’t get them into trouble, and perhaps serious trouble.
Which brings us to the Tater trauma.
The other day in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, the police launched yet another zero-tolerance attack, this time on Potato Cannons. Up there, they call them “potato launchers,” perhaps because they’re not allowed to use the word cannon lest it unleash murderous impulses throughout the populace.
As the Associated Press reported, “After confiscating a batch of ‘potato launchers,’ the East Grand Rapids Public Safety Department issued a zero-tolerance warning this week for the homemade weapons. Firing one, or even possessing one in a public park, is grounds for a $500 fine and a possible 90-day jail sentence, and department officials say they won’t hesitate to prosecute.”
There are no doubt many citizens who nodded approvingly at this news. After all, potato cannons can shoot a spud 100 yards, sometimes farther. In the warped mindset of our era, in which an unchecked imagination is accorded the same respect as a rational perspective, visions of menacing youths firing potatoes into crowds quickly takes hold. Ditto for visions of authentic felons, whose attempts to buy real guns have been thwarted by the Brady Bill, rushing into banks with the unwieldy weapons and demanding sacks of cash.
In Reality Land (a shrinking district, to be sure), the potato cannon is a life enhancer — providing light entertainment, especially for boys. They are humorous in their very being — a long piece of plastic pipe, at whose end is the combustion chamber, usually made from a pipe joint. These chambers have at least one removable plug, which look like the plugs on fire hydrants, and also boast a sparking flint inserted into the chamber through a hole.
Anticipation builds as the potato is stuffed down the pipe — which is generally five or six feet long — with a ramrod. Then the plug is removed and a mist of propellant is sprayed into the chamber. Aqua Net hairspray is a favorite because of its high butane content. The plug is quickly screwed back on. The gun is aimed in the desired location and the flint is spun.
Whoosh! The potato soars into the heavens. There are laughs and perhaps a sense of momentary awe, especially if the spud takes a mighty flight. Night firings are especially entertaining as spectators marvel as the plume of fire sends the spud into the dark sky. It’s not a whole lot, but it is something that kids — especially boys — like to do. Now this too is being banned.
Kids are supposed to live under these lockdown conditions with all good graces. Reasonable people know, however, that eventually the wrongly incarcerated will start reaching through the bars and strangling their jailers — along with the rest of us.
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