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Tuesday November 21, 2000

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Gunning for St. Nick

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By Nick Zeckets

Hey kiddies! This Holiday season, don't go for the old Nintendo or rocking horse. Get a nice, new, shiny revolver and be just like Santa Claus. At Jensen's Arizona Sportsman, a gun retailer in town located across the street from Fort Lowell Elementary, there is a picture of the jolly saint wielding a Colt .45. Considering the wave of youth gun violence that has swept the nation in the last year, such a picture is deplorable and should be removed.

Just across from the elementary school on East Pima Street is Jensen's, run by manager Butch Jensen. The issue was first covered by the Arizona Daily Star and then KOLD Channel 13. Says Jensen, "In the beginning of it, when it first went up, we had several parents come and chat with me and phone calls. After it hit the paper, then the phones really started ringing. Sixty percent of the phone calls were pro [finding no problem with the picture]...After that, Channel 13 got a hold of it." Unfortunately, some parents may not understand what the image means to children as opposed to adults with mature conceptions of danger and guns.

Aware that there were issues in the community, Jensen said he was "willing to listen to the parents' concerns." Under pressures from parents and educators, Jensen said he "met with the principal across the street and we decided to run with an education message to these kids about Santa. After it [the escalation] happened we had to run with it." The gun store certainly did not have the original intention of sparking debate, but when complaints arose, the store simply played the PR game.

Butch and his team of weapons dealers decided, under fire from the media, the school and parents, to minimize the image. Santa, despite the fact that he's still packing heat, espouses safety. "We're turning this into an educational program for kids. This is Eddie Eagle's [National Rifle Association] program, safety through education," remarked Jensen. Principal Andrew Kent of Fort Lowell Elementary originally told the Arizona Daily Star that the image was "tacky." More than tacky is the game Jensen has played.

Educating school-aged children about gun safety is an admirable pursuit, but doing it as a means of covering up a snafu is bad policy. Approach the school's administrators and propose an education campaign, but don't sully the reputation of the bearer of love and peace to the world's children.

Butch Jensen tried to stress how great the new Santa gun education program was by drawing a metaphor. "Santa is a respectable character among young adults right? Now he is carrying a gun, but cops carry guns as well right? They're respected in the community. Now Santa is trying to teach kids gun safety." If you don't pay too close attention to that, it almost sounds reasonable. However, many of those involved seem to be approaching the issue through an adult's eyes.

Fort Lowell Elementary School's office manager, Shirley McDonald, indicated that "Kindergartners typically aren't going to be reading that. And they're still seeing the picture." Educators worldwide understand the conceptual stage that children between the ages of 5 and 7 are at. Young minds create relations with images and seeing Santa happily wielding a firearm is a bad education.

Gun education is certainly an honorable initiative that should be supported by the community, but doing it as a PR cover up is dishonest and dangerous. During the last year there have been a slew of deaths at the hands of children carrying firearms. It does not take more than an idea to drive children to do something deadly.

Remember the child who watched Superman and jumped off his house and died thinking he could fly? Better yet, remember the scattering of kids across the nation who took their parents' guns to schools and wound up killing a friend? Children do not have a solid concept of the value of life or what murder truly is. Parents are fighting in these trying times to protect their young ones from the ills of the world. The last thing they need to battle is a merry gun toting Santa.

Scrape that painting of Santa holding a gun off the window. The safety message is too little. Thousands of gun stores nationwide find ulterior ways to market their death toys during the holiday season without defaming Santa Claus. Jensen's needs to think a bit harder as to how to sell their guns. A dead child at the hand of Santa's Co-Co-Colt won't be outweighed by good gun sales.

Nick Zeckets is a political science/near-Eastern studies junior. He can be reached at