In this “Scared New World” where kids are suspended for unauthorized Pop Tart shapes, or for playing cops and robbers at recess, you’d expect the worst for Sawyer Shepherd. After all, the Carthage, Mo., high school senior was caught red-handed with a shotgun at school! Okay, so it wasn’t in his hands, but unloaded, disassembled and cased in his truck. Still, it’s a gun, so despite the fact that Sawyer had a simple excuse for his mistake (he’d gone turkey hunting before school, returned home to shower, and just forgot to pick up the gun case from the floor of the back seat) and was just weeks away from graduation, he was facing the possibility of expulsion.
Then the community rallied around Shepherd. Dozens of his friends supported him in school by wearing t-shirts. A #FreeShep social media campaign began, and the story went viral. And as in so many cases, the national attention focused on a small town may have helped encourage the school board to do the right thing and reinstate Shepherd.
We’ve all seen the power of the crowd to shame others for transgressions real and imagined, from #HasJustineLandedYet to Ricky Gervais and his attacks on young women who love hunting. In fact, every day it seems there’s a new target or two for the mob’s ire. But there’s something different when it’s the people coming together to call out actions undertaken by a government agency. And it’s truly heartening when we see that government agency respond.
Now maybe these folks would have done the right thing without the public response, and it should be noted that the Shepherd family went out of their way to say that they understood the district’s position, but that they were hoping for an equitable outcome. In what could have been a very heated moment, it seems people on both sides tried to behave responsibly and without adding fuel to the fire. But when I spoke with Judd McPherson, Shepherd’s attorney, he told me that he really does believe that the media attention helped apply the right kind of pressure to the decision-makers in the school district.
It should also be noted that Carthage, Mo., is a long way from the squabbling in the halls of Capitol Hill and the cable news sets overlooking Times Square. Out in the real world, it seems, it’s still possible for true “common sense” to prevail. Now Sawyer is back in school, legislators are looking to fix Missouri’s state law so that this doesn’t happen to more young hunters, and even anti-gun activists haven’t complained about the reinstatement of Sawyer Shepherd.
Once again, the Show Me State has shown us that when we stand strong in support of our rights, we win.