Does a school ban on pro-gun T-shirts violate students’ First Amendment rights?
That’s the crux of a federal lawsuit filed on April 24 by an eighth-grader in Reno, Nev., who was punished in two separate incidents for wearing shirts promoting a local gun store and a gun advocacy group.
The student, who has only been identified by the initials G.M., violated the ban on Nov. 20, 2017, and on March 12, according to the lawsuit. Last fall he wore a shirt, which featured a rifle and handgun, advertising the Sparks Black Rifle gun store.
In the second incident, his Firearms Policy Coalition T-shirt did not feature gun imagery, but referenced the Second Amendment and the phrase “Don’t tread on me.” A teacher allegedly told him to cover the shirt, and said he could enjoy his “Second Amendment rights when he turns 18,” according to the lawsuit.
But it’s the First Amendment that could make or break his case. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by his parents, claims that the school district violated his right to free speech.
“The shirt did not promote or advocate illegal activity; it contained no violent or offensive imagery; nothing on it was obscene, vulgar, or profane,” the lawsuit states. “And yet [the student] was prevented from wearing his shirt based on school officials’ disagreement with the message they believe it conveyed.”
“Any social studies teacher should know, the First Amendment protects students’ right to speak on political or social issues — including the right to express what school officials may consider unpopular or controversial opinions,” the boy’s attorney, David O’Mara, added, the Associated Press reports.
The nonprofit gun rights organizations Firearms Policy Coalition and Firearms Policy Foundation are both supporting the lawsuit and have published materials to inform students who are pro-gun on how to best assert their rights in the wake of school walkouts.
“Public schools may not violate the civil rights of pro-gun rights students because they don’t like the Second Amendment or people who support the fundamental, individual human right to armed self-defense,” Firearms Policy Coalition president Brandon Combs said in a press release.
“It is beyond outrageous that a friendly, peaceful young man was targeted and punished by the same school district that days later went out of its way to support gun control,” he added.
The school told the Reno Gazette Journal that it is “looking into the allegations.”
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