School officials with the El Dorado Union High School District shot themselves in the foot after making the decision to turn over Ammo Depot’s sign on the Ponderosa High School stadium scoreboard. The advertisement was purchased by the Rancho Cordova business to promote the store and help sponsor the school’s football program. Brandon Lungren is one of the owners Ammo Depot. “I grew up in Rescue and my siblings and I all attended Ponderosa High School,” he said.
There’s clearly a longtime connection between Lungren and the school.
School administrators oftentimes respond in knee-jerk fashion when confronted by angry parents or when they have difficulty deciphering their own policy banning guns and ammunition on school property. Reading, speaking and writing of anything remotely related to guns is taboo in schools these days. If some parents had their way any reference to gun violence in history lessons would be stricken from their children’s eyes and ears.
Some schools have gone so far as to ban the use of hand gestures emulating a handgun by students.
Just last week for example, the parents of a 3-year-old deaf boy in Nebraska named Hunter Spanjer were haggling with his preschool over how he signs his name. Apparently Hunter is violating the school’s “no weapons in school” policy when he engages sign language to spell his moniker. The word Hunter is signed with a gun-like hand gesture.
From sign language in Nebraska to stadium scoreboard signs in Shingle Springs, we’re all paying the price for a pendulum that’s swinging too far to the left of center.
In Ponderosa High School’s situation, school administrators do have the right to control what appears on the scoreboard. They just went about it the wrong way.
Now before I get used for target practice by gun enthusiast and freedom of speech advocates let me put some facts in perspective.
Ammo Depot doesn’t sell guns. They sell ammunition. But the appearance of fake red bullet holes on its sign could be construed by the casual observer as distasteful. Plus, giving the scoreboard the appearance of a shot-up country road sign doesn’t bode well for gun lovers or football fans alike.
The administration’s reaction however was simply a case of overreaction. School policy doesn’t allow guns or ammunition on school property but it apparently doesn’t prevent anyone from promoting these items. Turning the sign over doesn’t really do anything but draw additional attention to it, thus all the media hype and talk of litigation.
And to those clamoring about freedom of commercial speech and the rights of citizens to promote their businesses as they see fit, you’re missing the point. Ammo Depot is located just off Highway 50. What if another business, located just east of Ammo Depot also in Rancho Cordova, wants to advertise their business on the high school scoreboard?
How would anyone feel about Centerfolds buying an advertisement? This is the business that features “exotic” nude dancers. Do you think some parents would get upset seeing the image of a scantily clad, well-endowed woman hanging over the football field?
You can make an argument for free commercial speech but the high school football stadium isn’t the place for an “anything goes” policy. When school administrators re-examine the policy regarding the types of advertisers and their messages they might also consider a few types of businesses to exclude in the future.
Ammo Depot isn’t the problem here. It’s the design of the sign and the school’s handling of the matter. Instead of quietly resolving this between the business owner and the booster club, administrators made the hasty decision to censor our innocent eyes from seeing those offensive fake bullet holes.
I’d like to believe both the Ammo Depot and Nebraska incidents are anomalies but I’m afraid it’s a “sign” of more overreaction to come in schools across the country.
Richard Esposito is publisher of Village Life and the Mountain Democrat.