When it comes to guns and schools, it's certainly better to err on the side of caution, but as with any strategy, common sense must also be used.

The shootings at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut have made many people jumpy, especially within the school community. Several weeks ago, a high school in New York was placed in lock down after someone called 911 to report a suspicious teen wearing a black backpack containing a lime green gun.

A SWAT team combed the building and found the menace in a locker. The lime green and yellow Nerf gun that was found looked like something out of a sci-fi comic book. Police made no arrests.

Closer to this area, Mount Carmel school officials took the zero tolerance policy to a new level on Jan. 10 when a 5-year-old girl was suspended after she was heard telling another girl that they should have a shoot-out with a toy called a Hello Kitty automatic bubble blower.

Even though the kindergartner didn't even have the pink colored bubble shooter with her, the school considered it a terrorist threat and suspended her for 10 days (later reduced to two). She was also ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which revealed the girl was normal and not a threat to others.

That the district would consider the girl "a threat to harm others" and the fact that the incident is affixed to the young girl's permanent record are both ridiculous.

We recall another case a while back when a kindergartner was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the police station after he pointed a chicken strip at another child and went "boom boom." The object of the joke, also in kindergarten, did the same right back at his schoolmate and a teacher reported it.

Still another district, this one in Talbot County, Md. made news after expelling two 6-year-old boys for something many of us might remember while playing cops and robbers during recess back in the day. The gesture involved making a gun shape using their thumb and index finger, pointing and saying "Pow, pow!"

The boy's father, Rodney Lynch Sr., was incensed at the charge that the boy had threatened another student.

"He was playing," the dad said. "We believe him. Period. What else would he be doing? He's six. Six!"

Commenting on the case, one child psychologist said he didn't believe maliciousness was involved and that most 6-year-olds' minds aren't developed enough to understand why their idea of fun play might make adults upset.

Activities involving imagination are part of the childhood experience. Adults who overreact over seeing an obvious toy or report on small boys for play-acting is taking the zero tolerance policy to an extreme.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com