RENO, Nev. (AP) — An eighth-grade student has filed a federal lawsuit accusing his northern Nevada school district of violating his First Amendment rights after he says he was told his pro-gun T-shirt violates the district’s dress code.
The suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Reno alleges the Washoe County School District policy prohibiting depictions of “anything that promotes weapons” is unconstitutional.
It says the discriminatory nature of the policy is underscored by the fact the school district allowed students to participate in recent protests in support of gun control.
The Reno Gazette Journal first reported on its website that the boy who attends Depoali Middle School in Reno has been disciplined twice for wearing pro-gun clothing — once last November and once on March 12.
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One shirt had a logo for a local gun store, Sparks Black Rifle, with silhouettes of a rifle and a handgun. The other didn’t depict any weapons but promoted the Firearms Policy Coalition — a gun rights advocacy group — with the words, “Don’t Tread on Me,” the lawsuit said.
School officials are reviewing the allegations but don’t have any immediate comment, district spokeswoman Megan Downs said Wednesday.
The lawsuit was filed by Reno lawyer David O’Mara on behalf of the youth and his parents. The suit says the boy identified only by his initials, G.M., has a First Amendment right to speak out in favor of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“The shirt did not promote or advocate any illegal activity; it contained no violent or offensive imagery; nothing on it was obscene… It was pure political speech,” the suit states.
It alleges that when the boy told his teacher during the second incident last month that he has the right to express himself through the way he dresses, the teacher responded that he could practice his Second Amendment rights when he turns 18.
“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,” O’Mara wrote.
He said the unconstitutionality of the school’s actions is evidenced by the fact that the school district “allows — even encourages and endorses — expression of different viewpoints” on at least one of the subjects the boy’s shirt addressed.
Shortly after the boy was disciplined, students at the school participated in the “National School Walkout, a formal, organized protest calling for new gun measures,” the suit said.
In a news release, the president of the Sacramento-based Firearms Policy Coalition described the incident as “beyond outrageous.”
“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,” coalition president Brandon Combs said.
“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 said.