Thursday, April 25, 2013

When Squirt Guns Are Outlawed ...

You know our society's threshold for panic has sunk to new low levels when a local police department sends out a warning to citizens about teenagers playing with squirt guns.

This sort of warning was, in fact, distributed by Montgomery Township (New Jersey) police in an email dated April 23. The web version of the email says, in part (telephone number redacted to reduce the number of justifiable crank calls):

A portion of Montgomery High School seniors are participating in a Township wide game known as "senior assassin." The game is not supported nor condoned by the School District. The game involves teams of students seeking out each other and squirting them with water guns. The activity causes both residents and law enforcement alarm due to the devices and methods used by the participants. Citizens may notice an increase in both vehicular and pedestrian traffic involving groups of high school youths. Motorists are asked to use extra caution especially during evening and early morning hours. Parents of participating students are asked to caution their children on the dangers of possessing realistic looking weapons, careless driving, and overall risky behavior. Residents should not attribute suspicious activity to the game and contact Montgomery Police at (908)xxx-xxxx or 9-1-1 in case of an emergency.
The game in question -- here called "senior assassin" but which goes by other names such as "Gotcha, Assassins, KAOS (Killing as organized sport), Juggernaut, Battle Royal, Paranoia, Killer, Elimination, or Circle of Death" -- is not a new phenomenon. I remember playing a version of it in my college dorm in 1980 (I was eliminated in the first round) and the game is a principal plot element in the 1985 Cold War comedy thriller, Gotcha!, starring Anthony Edwards when he still had a full head of hair.

It has been years since commercially-available squirt guns have borne any resemblance to actual firearms, so the police department's stated caution about "possessing realistic looking weapons" is a bit disingenuous.

Maybe New Jerseyans have a different temperament than Virginians, but what really disturbs me is how this innocent game "causes both residents and law enforcement alarm."

As I recall from The Sopranos, therapists are available in New Jersey. Anyone who is "alarmed" by squirt gun fights among teenagers really needs to be under the care of a licensed psychologist.

The last sentence of the missive offers me some comfort, however, and a suspicion that even the communications staff at police HQ in Belle Mead, New Jersey, are rolling their eyes in disbelief at what they are compelled to do. If you read it grammatically, the last sentence says: "Residents should not ... contact Montgomery Police..."

(Cross-posted from Bearing Drift.)

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