Cap Gun Gets Maryland 5 Year-Old Suspended, Interrogated Without Parents Present

The insanity of "Zero Tolerance" policies.

Cap Gun

We’ve seen many examples in recent years of the insanity of “zero tolerance” policies in school, but this example out of Maryland has to be one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever seen:

A kindergartner who brought a cowboy-style cap gun onto his Calvert County school bus was suspended for 10 days after showing a friend the orange-tipped toy, which he had tucked inside his backpack on his way to school, according to his family and a lawyer.

The child was questioned for more than two hours before his mother was called, she said, adding that he uncharacteristically wet his pants during the episode. The boy is 5 — “all bugs and frogs and cowboys,” his mother said.

“I have no problem that he had a consequence to his behavior,” said the mother, who asked that her name be withheld to protect her son’s privacy.

“What I have a problem with is the severity,” she said, and the way it was handled.

The family’s attorney appealed the suspension late Thursday, asking that the action be reversed and the child’s record be expunged.

If the punishment stands, it would become part of the boy’s permanent school record and keep him out of classes the rest of the school year, the family said. He would miss his end-of-year kindergarten program at Dowell Elementary School in Lusby.


The mother said the principal told her that if the cap gun had been loaded with caps, it would have been deemed an explosive and police would have been called in.

The child’s disciplinary referral said he was being suspended for possession of a look-alike gun.

The child’s mother is a high school teacher in Calvert who said she strongly supports the school system and loves the teachers at her son’s school. She and her husband, who coaches youth sports, are active community volunteers.

For the family, a major concern is the long period the 5-year-old was questioned without parental guidance or support. His sister was questioned, too, she said.

“The school was quite obviously taking it very seriously, and he’s 5 years old,” she said. “Why were we not immediately contacted?”

There are really two issues here.

The first is the fact that this kids is being suspended for having a cap gun. If you read the rest of the article, you’ll see that he brought the gun, which wasn’t “loaded” with caps to show his friend. Not a smart decision, but this is a five year old for god sake. Say what you will, but five year-olds don’t always think things through the way an adult oes. Moreover, while I understand why schools are concerned about the whole issue of weapons in school, even in the hands of someone as young as five, it’s worth noting that this was a cap gun. I had cap guns when I was a kid and all they do is produce a moderately loud noise, they’re no danger to anyone. Treating this situation the same as if he’d brought an unloaded pistol to school just seems silly to me. Perhaps it would be appropriate to punish the child to teach him a lesson, but that can be done without suspending him and putting something on his school record that is going to follow him for the next twelve years of his education.

The second issue is a bigger deal, and it involves the fact that the boy was interrogated by school officials (police were never called) for up to two hours without his parents being notified. According to reports in other local news outlets here in the D.C. area, the boy became so upset during all of this that he urinated all over himself, an understandable reaction for a child in Kindergarten. Why weren’t the parents called in before they started questioning this boy, especially since it should have been readily apparent that he was no danger to himself or anyone else in the school? The fact that his mother is an employee of the very same school system makes the entire situation even more egregious. Perhaps this would have been an appropriate way to treat a 5th grader, or a kid in Middle or High School, but a kid who is just finishing up the year where they do things like learn the Alphabet? Utterly, utterly absurd.

FILED UNDER: Education, Guns and Gun Control, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jack says:

    This zero tolerance crap in schools has simply gone too far.

  2. 11B40 says:


    Well, at least those highly educated authorities didn’t pry it from his cold dead hand.

  3. Alp says:

    This is so very typical of our society and schools today,
    They will not teach real lessons, only social ideas
    as they see them. A Cap Gun is no more dangerous
    than a ruler, a belt with a buckle, or even a plastic
    lunch box. This punishment is ludicrous! It is time for
    real Americans to stand up for American as it was
    founded and grew for over a 100 years. Not the
    America we see today!!!

  4. legion says:

    The second issue is a bigger deal, and it involves the fact that the boy was interrogated by school officials (police were never called) for up to two hours without his parents being notified.

    As the parent of a child who has had similar (but thankfully not so poorly-handled) issues, this sends me through the roof. I would be filing an enormous lawsuit against the school _and_ considering criminal charges as well. If the cops had been called & given an opinion that would be one thing, but “school officials” unequivocally do _not_ have this power. There needs to be some people getting fired for this.

  5. bk says:

    @Alp: Are you trolling?

  6. Tony W says:

    The clear solution is for the rest of the students to be “armed” with cap guns too.

    Why hasn’t the NRA sounded off on this?

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    “Zero tolerance” wouldn’t have gone nearly as far if it had correctly been branded an “Intolerance” policy…..

  8. Rafer Janders says:

    A kindergartner who brought a cowboy-style cap gun onto his Calvert County school bus

    The only protection from a kindergartner with a cowboy-style cap gun is a good kindergartener with a cowboy-style cap gun.

  9. Rafer Janders says:

    The second issue is a bigger deal, and it involves the fact that the boy was interrogated by school officials (police were never called) for up to two hours without his parents being notified.

    What did they even interrogate him about??? “Is this your gun?” “Yes.” There, we’re done. What else is left to ask??? What were they asking him about? The whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s No. 3 man?

  10. Dean says:

    We should have a zero tolerance policy regarding adults who believe it’s necessary to interrogate a 5-year-old who brought a cap gun to school for two hours without their parents.

  11. stonetools says:

    While I agree with all of the above, there was a one week period in April in which four children shot other children to death with guns. One case involved a 5 year old who shot a 2 year old with a gun an adult bought and gave to him. Here’s another case:

    JACKSONVILLE, FL, 4/13/13: A 13-year-old old girl was found dead inside a Northside home Saturday afternoon in what appears to be an accidental shooting, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Several children — ages 13, 11, 10, 9 and 1 — were in the home without adult supervision when a shooting occurred. It appears the children were playing with the firearm when it went off, hitting the 13-year-old.

    While the school went too far here, children do kill children with guns in this land of FREEDUMB!

  12. george says:


    But what has that got to do with interrogating a five year old for two hours before informing his parents? Seriously, what information could they possibly have thought they would get from him? Info on an illegal cap gun dealer?

  13. stonetools says:


    You and Doug are making the mistake of understanding this thing backwards, not forwards. I guarantee that the initial report to a school official was not, “Johnny has a harmless, unloaded cap gun.” It was, “Johnny has a gun!” That’s a little bit different.
    The duty of the school at that point was not to shrug off the report and say , “Probably just a cap gun”. As a parent, you don’t want them doing that. You want them to investigate, question the child, and secure the purported weapon ASAP. Now did they go too far? Maybe. I certainly don’t think a suspension was called for. I would agree quick action was called for to secure the situation. I think that they were right to question the child immediately and to get the item from him. They should have stopped there, IMO, till the parents came.
    Doug’s posting of a Hopalong Cassidy type cap pistol is cute. But there are plenty of cap pistols that look quite realistic. Realistic enough, unfortunately, to fool police officers.

    The fatal police shooting earlier this month of a Texas middle school student clutching a BB gun – the latest in a series of incidents involving imitation firearms – spotlights how localities and states have struggled to identify and control both look-alike toys and guns that fire something other than bullets.

  14. Boyd says:

    @stonetools: Well, you’re right about one thing: somebody here is looking at this issue backwards.

    Nice strawman you built there, so you can knock it down. None of the “issues” you bring up were at play here. This was handled flat-out wrong, and all your defensiveness on behalf of Calvert County school officials isn’t going to make it right.

  15. Paula Gurley says:

    @stonetools: Not with cap guns, they don’t. To interrogate a 5 year old for 2 hours? There is no excuse, none whatsoever. So take his gun, suspend him if you feel the need to show him who’s boss………but to intimidate a little boy to the point where he pees his pants……..these scum need to be fired and charged with abuse

  16. michael reynolds says:

    I would personally punch the stupid son of a bitch who did this to one of my kids. It’s child abuse.

  17. Rafer Janders says:


    You want them to investigate, question the child, and secure the purported weapon ASAP.

    And that takes…what, one minute, two minutes tops?

  18. mom of 4 says:

    In Loudoun County in VA, we have the same stupid “no tolerance” rules. My son was being bullied by another kid on the bus (kid pushed him out of his seat). My son got frustrated and punched the kid in the thigh. Unfortunately, he had a (dull, because he never sharpens them) pencil in his hand. He was suspended for a day because he used a “weapon.” BEFORE we were ever notified, he was questioned, and made to sign a confession and the punishment was doled out.

    We have now told all of our kids that if ANYTHING ever happens, they are to tell the principal, teacher, etc. that their parents have told them they are not allowed to say or sign ANYTHING until their dad (an attorney) is notified.

    Oh, and the other kid wasn’t suspended.

    Additionally, my girls aren’t allowed to carry Advil. Gee, ever have teenage girls around their period? They get cramps. They don’t go to the nurse until it is too late. At that point, they need to come home. Same with a headache. Oh, and sun tan lotion is considered “medicine” an can not be used in school…example field day…same with cough drops.

    This whole zero tolerance thing has gone waaaaay too far!

  19. Rodney Dill says:

    @george: They obviously had to determine that we wasn’t illegally obtaining and stockpiling rolls of caps to make a more dangerous explosive device…. I mean his parent might’ve even had a pressure cooker… doh.

  20. Paul Hooson says:

    As a kid I just loved those Hubley Western styled cap guns. Today they sell for some good money on Ebay.

  21. Tyrell says:

    @Paul Hooson: I have a few of these in an old toy box somewhere, still in real leather holsters!! I did not know they are worth a lot. I also have a toy Winchester cap rifle (these became very popular during the “Rifleman” tv run, starring the late, great LA Dodger Chuck Conners). Another item around here somewhere is a pirate cap pistol, bought at Disney World in the 1980’s. I might still have a couple of old Derringers around too.
    It is amazing all the toys that tv series sold. The most famous: Mickey Mouse ears beanie cap, and the huge selling coonskin cap of Davy Crockett. I don’t think that tv sells a lot of toys like that now.

  22. Phillip says:

    @mom of 4: While I like your approach, it ironically reveals the reason for such policies. Should a lawyer with any skill find school administrators not applying such policies uniformly, no doubt lawsuits will be filed, amiright?

    I suppose no one has bothered to ask what idiot parent lets their child take a cap gun to school in the first place. Oh, the parent didn’t know what their kid was carrying? Small wonder the school wanted to find out whether or not something like this could’ve been repeated with something far more deadly. I personally took a fishing knife to school when I was 7 (this was 1985) specifically to scare off a bully. While I wasn’t suspended (principal knew my parents), he “interrogated” me to determine where it came from in the first place. Everyone involved agreed that my grandfather’s fishing knives were far too accessible for a child, and should be squirreled away somewhere safer.

  23. 11B40 says:


    And from our way way back machine…

    Even though I grew up in the Bronx in the afterglow of WW II, I was always more inclined to the cowboy ways. I had the twin Fanner-Fiftys cap pistol rig which was, unfortunately, one of the banes of my dear mother’s existence.

    One summer’s day, she took me and my sister to the movies, double-features in those days. The second movie was “The Charge at Feather River”, not only an oat-burner, but a 3-D oat-burner. I was allowed to wear my rig but was warned against bringing any caps. In one of the very few failures of my mother’s eternal vigilance program, she forgot the body cavity search and I managed to secret two full rolls on my person. During the intermission, I went off to the lavatory and loaded up.

    The highlight of the movie for me was the, you guessed it, “The Charge at Feather River”. The besieged cavalry and cowpokes were attacked by the ferocious, in those days, pre-Native Americans. In unison, they loosed their arrows and spears which, through the miracle of 3-D, seemed to come pouring out of the screen directly at me. What’s a boy-cowboy to do but to shoot up some caps to protect his mother, sister, and himself. However, before I could get off even a handful of shots, my mother had re-established her normal level of control of both my property and my person.

    Later that evening, my mother came into my room with that twinkle in her eye that meant “Your father wants to talk to you in the living room.” Denotations aside, the obvious connotation was that parental supervision had been kicked up a notch to the ultimate level. When I arrived in the living room, my father was involved with his evening beer, cigarette, and newspaper. I sat down as quietly as possible on the couch. My father lowered his broadsheet and gave me his sternest look. He then began his pre-waterboarding days interrogation.

    “So,” my father began, “your mother took you to the movies this afternoon.” “She did,” I replied as my father’s look told me that that was all the answer required. “And, she let you take your six-guns.” Again, only the “She did.” “But, she told you no caps.” Once more, the “She did,” as the in-terror-gation proceeded along its course. “And, you took some anyway.” A quick switch to an “I did.” “And, you shot them off in the theater.” Again, an “I did” followed by a failed attempt to begin a litany of excuses for my actions.

    “So,” my father began as he took a Lucky Strike pause, “How many Injuns d’ya kill?”

  24. stonetools says:


    If you bothered to read my post, you would see that I thought the school went too far. I guess you thought the witch hunt had lasted long enough and we needed to go straight to the burning at the stake stage without considering the other side. Got it.

  25. @Jack: The simple notion of “zero tolerance” is already too far.

  26. stonetools says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    And that takes…what, one minute, two minutes tops?

    You would think. Of course, we weren’t there, so we can only speculate. Apparently he pointed the gun at someone on the school bus. Now if its the Hopalong Cassidy type gun that’s displayed above, that’s one thing. But frankly we don’t know what the gun looked like, or precisely what the circumstances were.
    IMO, the school probably overreached. But kids do bring real guns to school and kids do shoot other kids with real guns, so this is not some phantom menace about things that never happen.

  27. Paul Hooson says:

    @Tyrell: Check out the prices on Ebay, you’ll be surprised. Those old cap guns are so cool. During the Vietnam War it seemed like war toys and toy guns disappeared for years. That was a sad period for military and gun toys. That’s why the 50’s and 60’s were so good. – I appreciate your comments. Have a super day! – Paul

  28. Boyd says:

    @stonetools: Nope, read the whole thing. Figured you were trying to throw a smokescreen up to distract folks from your straw man. Or rather, straw men.

    You may fool yourself, but you sure don’t fool me with that claptrap.

  29. matt says:

    @stonetools: The “gun” had a giant orange tip on the end and frankly didn’t look like a real weapon…

  30. superdestroyer says:

    A lawyer should be able to understand zero tolerance. If you take judgement calls away from school administrators, then there can be no nitpicking of those judgement calls by attorneys. What is amazing is that schools have all adopted zero tolerance to limit their vulnerability to civil rights litigation. Yet, it has not stopped activist from screaming racism and has now lead to calls from school discipline to be based on quotas.

    Maybe the take away is that when lawyers and the fear of lawyers drives policy, no one wins.

  31. JWH says:

    Zero tolerance has gone over the top. Provided it’s the kid’s first offense, this sounds like a good case for a trip to the principal’s office, a lecture from the principal, and a call to the parents.

  32. andrew says:

    @stonetools: how many were killed with “unloaded” cap guns?

  33. andrew says:

    @Phillip: the only idiots here are you and stonetools.

  34. andrew says:

    @stonetools: actually you said “maybe, the school went to far”. in fact it is quite clear that if they interrogated a child for more than two minutes without notifying his parents that was too far. if they then made him pee himself, it was an unconscionable, unjustifiable outrage. “maybe” is not applicable here.

  35. andrew says:

    funny thing is, when my wife read the headline on drudge, I said. “It’s probably somewhere in Maryland”. Anyone who continues to live in that commie cesspool only has his/herself too blame.

  36. Tyrell says:

    Best action is always not to overreact. First, call the parents to come and pick up the gun then or wait until school lets out. Ask them to check the child’s book bag or pockets and read him the riot act about taking toys to school. Next send a letter out to parents about what happened and the importance of checking book bags regularly. The letter will help dispel the rumor mill. As school gets close to the end of the year all kinds of crazy things happen. The scary part is that a five year old msy not know the difference in a toy gun and a real one. Parents, always double secure your real guns if you have any. Small kids and real guns are a very bad mix.
    There is an old rule that goes like: do not take a problem and make it worse.

  37. michael reynolds says:

    This is the “action” that was called for: “Hey, little Jimmy, you can’t bring fake guns to school. Okay?”

    That is 100% of the rational action necessary.

  38. tim says:


    im from the netherlands but i read news from all over the world….
    i must conclude that the us is by far the country with the most scared gouverment in the world,
    they make people so scared, that even teachers act like special agents….
    the kid is 5!!
    if i read youre comments im shocked!!
    the most of you think its normal that he cant bring that gun to school….
    ITS a TOY of a 5 year old!!

  39. John Peabody says:

    The interrogation team was probably secretly enjoying their “Law and Order” moment, and didn’t want it to stop.

  40. elizajane says:

    I agree with our Dutch visitor that there is something bizarre in our refusal to distinguish children’s toys from dangerous weapons. i feel as if this is about deflecting our inability to deal with real issues onto things that we can control:
    1. This country has a huge and real problem with guns and we seem politically unable to do anything about it. So what do we do? We go nuts about toy guns in schools. The kid can have as many guns as his parents want to buy him, of course, as long as he keeps them at home. But we can have a zero tolerance policy on pretend weapons!
    2. There are real problems in our society about sexual abuse and predators, reaching into major institutions, online networks, etc. What do we do? Make it a felony for a high school senior to date a freshman! Because if we put people on the sex-offender registry for life for inappropriate teen dating, that will solve all our problems.

  41. Davebo says:


    Actually you said “maybe” the school went to far.

    With adults peeing their pants over such a trivial situation and seemingly reasonable people bending over their backs to defend them is it any wonder we ended up in a war in Iraq??

    YOU are part of the problem.

  42. TastyBits says:


    I agree with most of the other comments about the stupidity of zero tolerance, but your comments have given me pause. It does explain the policy somewhat, but I do not think I agree with it. While I may not agree with a person, I do appreciate a thoughtful comment.

    I think that far too often people make “the mistake of understanding this thing backwards, not forwards.” I would rephrase it to be “imposing today onto the past,” but that is more encompassing.

  43. MattT says:

    Treating this situation the same as if he’d brought an unloaded pistol to school just seems silly to me

    You think that if he’d brought a real gun to school, the punishment would have been the same? He’d have been expelled, juvenile authorities would have been called in, his parents would have at the very least been questioned by the police and might have been arrested and/or lose the kid to protective services, at least for a while.

    The story sounds like it may have been trumped up a little by the parents and media. Bringing a cap gun to school, especially if it was a realistic-looking one, is a very bad idea and some kind of punishment was in order. As for the 2 hour “interrogation,” is that what it really was or was he sitting in the principal’s office, just waiting for most of that time? Should parents be called immediately every time the kid is sent to the principal’s office?

    Zero-tolerance policies are stupid but I suspect there’s less than meets the eye here.

  44. Dave O. says:

    So he and his parents should be grateful that their “betters” didn’t punish the 5-yr old more seriously. Right. Hopefully, that group of administrators are all fired.@MattT:

  45. matt says:

    @elizajane: This country has a huge and real problem with violence in general (more people are killed with hands and feet a year then rifles). Blame the person not the tool..

    Your second statement is correct though.

  46. matt says:


    Should parents be called immediately every time the kid is sent to the principal’s office?

    Should kids be interrogated for two hours to the point of peeing themselves every time they go to the principal’s office?

  47. MattT says:

    @Dave O.: Not close to what I said, or intended to convey.

  48. Franklin says:

    This is, of course, totally ridiculous. But is it really more ridiculous than the three other stories in the past week where little kids have “accidentally” killed someone with a REAL loaded gun lying around?

  49. Boyd says:

    @Franklin: What in the world does a kid taking a cap gun to school have to do with someone negligently giving a different child access to a real gun?

    Yes, you’re right: absolutely nothing.

  50. Gabe says:

    I’d like to reiterate that the chief gripe from both the parents and the writer is that punishment far exceeded the crime and that the child was interrogated WITHOUT the parents present.

    Forget children, ADULTS frequently end up being co-erced into confessing and/or agree to some kind of punishment by the police. There is a reason why interrogating a minor without the guardian’s permission is considered illegal.

    @ stonetools: The issue of children killing children has almost no bearing on the situation. The article does not in any way approve of the child bringing a gun to school. It focuses on the consequences.

    Should the parents have made sure the child didn’t bring a (toy) gun to school? Yes. Should the child be reprimanded? Yes. Should the child receive a academic suspension which he probably doesn’t understand and will follow him for the rest of his academic career(including college)? Obviously, NO.

    The child is 5. Do you really want to hold the CHILD responsible for a PARENT’s responsibility? There is no circumstance in which a child should be interrogated by police/school administrators without his parents, and ESPECIALLY to the point where he pees on himself. We don’t allow police to interrogate adult criminals until they pee themselves without an attorney present either. What makes a child different?

  51. aFloridian says:

    Doug, you acknowledge that a five year old doesn’t know what’s what, but then assert the situation was/ should not have been treated the same as if an actual unloaded revolver was brought to school property, but what’s the functional difference as far as punishing the KID should be concerned?

    Parents should have been contacted right away.

    Oh, and as big of a Second Amendment supporter as I am, I hardly think it’s crazy for a school’s administration, given our current climate, to react strongly and severely to this sort of behavior. I’m not sure a lengthy suspension is in order, however. I’m assuming the gun had an orange tip, unlike the one pictured above, so it should have been immediately obvious the gun was a cap gun and not a real revolver.

  52. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    Did any of you who are making reference to “not knowing how realistic…” (and you ALL know who you are) read the “orange plastic tip” part of the post?

    Want to try again after reading it?

  53. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    One suspects a police department is about to be vigorously sued.

  54. Hilda says:


    As a former teacher in a public school, I know too well the cesspools that government schools have become, which is why I would like to see the government run schools privatized. Mr. Bowden explains why gov’t schools are a bad idea:

  55. Franklin says:

    @Boyd: It has to do with priorities. If we can’t fix both problems at the same time, which one is more important? (I’ll give you a clue: probably the one where there are actual dead children.)

  56. Boyd says:


    I asked, “What in the world does a kid taking a cap gun to school have to do with someone negligently giving a different child access to a real gun?”

    @You responded, “It has to do with priorities. If we can’t fix both problems at the same time, which one is more important?”

    Your response is nonsensical, to be honest. It’s a non sequitur.

  57. Franklin says:

    Actually I’m just going to go ahead and concede that point. It made more sense in my head at the time, and the explanation would probably elicit the word ‘convoluted’.