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OPINION - Nerf wars

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) To understand the Nerf Wars controversy from Tuesday night, we need to go back to Monday. On Monday a letter was sent home to Wausau West parents from the police department. It was a warning about Nerf Wars -- a game where high schoolers shoot each other with Nerf guns. What's the problem? Police warned that trespassing or causing property damage while playing is illegal.

On Tuesday night, police received a 911 from a home on Stevens Drive. The caller believes she saw groups of people roaming her neighborhood pointing firearms at each other. Police responded with an overwhelming presence -- multiple squad cars to block off the street, and then approaching the suspects with their weapons drawn.

There are two questions to ask about the events of Tuesday night. First, how could the original 911 caller mistake a Nerf gun for a real gun. The Nerf gun is made of yellow plastic with a neon orange stock. And second, one night after the police send home a warning about Nerf Wars, how could they react as if a real shoot-out was happening when they get an emergency call from a home that's across the street from Wausau-West High School.

What happened is clear: police wanted a big show of force to put a scare into Nerf War players. The police may hide behind the fig leaf of taking no chances and assuming the worst, but that requires a suspension of one of the most important tools of good law enforcement -- common sense. Police knew exactly what was happening, and still decided to approach with guns drawn.

One of the six students who was cited for disorderly conduct sent out a tweet the morning after. He claimed to have been inside his car, waiting, with his Nerf gun on the passenger seat. Police surrounded his car, drew their weapons, ordered him out, and gave him a citation.

Sitting on the side of the road in a parked car is not disorderly conduct. Other students who are facing similar charges should reject any plea bargain and fight these allegations in court. Hopefully prosecutors will see the wisdom of dropping the charges outright.

The only thing I agree with the police about is that Nerf Wars can't be fought on private property. The solution is simple. As part of senior week activities, why not have a supervised, school sponsored Nerf War on the fields behind Wausau West? It actually sounds like fun.

Chris Conley
4.24.14

Image: Nerf Warsplayed in Haig Park Canberravia Wikicommons.com