Story last updated at 2:45 p.m. Thursday, October 3, 2002

Gun incidents offer lessons, opportunity
Recent events involving children and guns have hit too close to home, raising some frightening concerns. Two weeks ago, three McNeil Canyon Elementary School students were arrested and suspended after authorities caught wind of their alleged plan to use guns and other weapons to "take over" the school. Last week, a Homer Middle School student who brought a handgun to school was arrested off school grounds after an "anonymous" caller tipped police off.

While no one was hurt or placed in imminent danger in either event, both have made the prospect of the unthinkable a little more thinkable here in tiny Homer. They also raise some serious questions about the messages being sent -- or not sent -- to our children.

Since the McNeil incident, parents of some of the students involved have hired attorneys. School administrators and law enforcement personnel have come under fire for their response and for the way they handled the situation. Parents of the accused children -- and of those children who reported the plan to administrators -- all say the lines of communication coming out of the school were shoddy and slow.

One of the boy's parents say the whole plot was a game that snowballed out of control, and that it was just a case of kids playing -- no different than "Cops and Robbers" or "Cowboys and Indians."

It may be difficult to imagine that a group of 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds could have been truly serious about such a plot, especially given their reason -- more recess time, less homework. But with 25 school shootings since 1996 in the United States alone, including one in Alaska, it is not possible to overreact to the threat of yet another incident.

The world has changed. "Cops and Robbers" and "Cowboys and Indians" are no longer taken lightly. But 10-year-olds remain 10-year-olds, and games remain, to them, just games.

Except for the McNeil children themselves, perhaps no one will ever know if their plan was more than just a game. School district administrators and law enforcement personnel say they reacted the way they did because it doesn't matter.

Children often don't comprehend the potential bigness of their actions. This is where communication becomes paramount. Parents need to help their children understand that words matter, and that guns -- along with such things as fire and motor vehicles -- are adult tools and not toys. In their place, guns are useful. But their place is most certainly not in lunchboxes.

We salute the McNeil students who had the courage to come forward and report what they heard. Their parents should be proud of them. Other parents should use these unsettling events to teach a very valuable life lesson about personal responsibility and conduct, and about something we all take too much for granted: communication.