In a desire to remove all things gun related from American culture, a school board in Anne Arundel County, Maryland has suspended use of the letter “L” in Baltimore area schools, citing the letter’s resemblance to a handgun.
Dr. Michelle Gramig, Anne Arundel County School Board Commissioner, is leading the crusade against the 12th letter of our alphabet. “There mere presence of a pictogram that resembles a gun is evidence of the violence inherent in the system,” Gramig told CNN. “And we teach these letters to children.”
What do we teach our children?
This isn’t Anne Arundel County’s first foray into gun control. Park Elementary School in Baltimore gained notoriety for its decision to suspend second-grader Josh Welsh last month when he nibbled his Pop Tart into the shape of a handgun.
The Pop Tart decision is understandable. The serving size of a Pop Tart is one pastry, (not two–which is implied by the packaging). One Tart contains 19 grams of sugar and 203 calories. And they may contain traces of peanuts, which can be deadly to anyone with a peanut allergy within half a mile of the tasty pastry. Both of these are reason enough to suspend students who carry concealed Pop Tarts.
But the letter L?
Other offensive uses of the alphabet
This isn’t the first time letters have caused problems. Practitioners of American Sign Language (ASL) often spell out nuanced words or names with individual letters. The ASL “G” used to be made by positioning your trigger finger forward in a pointing gesture, and tucking the other three fingers into a fist. With the thumb parallel to the trigger finger, the old ASL “G” is the perfect illustration of good trigger control.
But there’s a new “anti-gun G” gaining in popularity that looks something like this. With the trigger finger slightly bent and the thumb at the ready, the gesture resembles the action used when one pulls a magazine from a pouch.
If the letter “L” is removed alphabet, there may be no need for a reevaluation of the ASL “L” which currently resembles a gun being pointed up into the air, a gesture common to rural New Years Eve celebrations and Taliban victory gatherings, but noticeably absent from spree killings.
When pressed for comment, The Letter L (Sesame Streets’ letter of the day for March 23rd) declined comment on his resemblance to a gun. “I’ve honestly never thought about it,” L said.
Yet the iconic character, beloved by American preschoolers, is not as popular in Japan, where guns are verboten. L dismisses the idea that his lack of popularity might be attributed to his menacing appearance. “It has nothing to do with guns. It’s a phonetic phenomenology unique to the Japanese,” L said about the confusion, known colloquially as Engrish. “They don’t differentiate between the lateral consonant sounds of L and R. They’re always getting us confused.”
When asked about how he might handle being eliminated from the alphabet, L remained confident. “I’m an important player. I mean, without me Elmo is just Emo.”
If L goes, what’s next?
When asked what other letters in the alphabet might need to be removed, Dr. Gramig says she is keeping an open mind. “We’re commissioning a study that will examine children’s ability to associate the lowercase letter “k” to an assault rifle, and the lower case r’s resemblance to a revolver,” she told a receptive audience at a recent Anne Arundel County PTA meeting.
The decision to nix L from the stable of letters has brought together two uncommon allies in what will surely be a prolonged legal battle to defend our linguistic heritage. The Modern Language Association (a group comprised mostly of leftist poets and underemployed graduate students) issued a brief statement. “Laughable!” The NRA, as expected, is steadfast in their resolve to “stand and fight.”
And fight they will. Bob Loblaw, representing both the NRA and the MLA has sent an appeal via email to Anne Arundel County schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell asking that the redaction of the letter L be dropped.
Robert Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, confirmed the school system had received the appeal but could not comment on it. “We got it. It gets reviewed and we’ll go from there,” he said.
“Dr. Gramig has taken the worst possible interpretation of an innocent consonant,” Loblaw wrote in the appeal. “The letter no more resembles a gun than the state of Florida. There is no evidence that any student has been unduly frightened by this, or any letter of the alphabet.”
Loblaw has experience in these types of cases. In 2012 he defended a first-grader in Montgomery County who was put on suicide watch when he made an L out of his finger and thumb and slapped it to his forehead (a gesture universally understood to mean “loser”).
Dr. Gramig remains determined to right what she perceives to be a long standing linguistic wrong. “All of this vitriol,” Gramig said, “tells me that a lot of people support my side of it, and a lot of people feel the same way I do. The NRA is free to stand and fight, but we intend to emend, abridge and rectify until we have an alphabet that’s safe for children.”
The incident prompted State Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Republican representing Baltimore and Harford counties, to introduce a bill to prohibit principals “from suspending or expelling a student who uses at school, or on school property, a letter that reminds anyone of gun, a picture of a gun, a computer image of a gun, a facsimile of a gun or any other object that resembles or sounds like a gun but serves another purpose.”
In the letter sent home to families on Friday, Myrna Lee, assistant principal at Park Elementary, informed parents of the school’s new zero-tolerance policy. “Letters that resemble weapons will no longer be allowed to disrupt class,” Phillips wrote, “even if they’re not used to spell inappropriate words or harm anyone. If children are troubled by the decision, help them share their feelings.”
In addition, a counselor will be available to students, the letter said. “In general, please remind them of the importance of making good choices,” she wrote.