Measuring a Measured PR Response: Disarming the “Pistol Pastry” Incident

Jun 6, 2013


Pop-Tart GunOK, we all know too many sweets can cause cavities and tummy aches, but the following “sweet tale” is ridiculous. In March of this year, 7-year-old Josh Welch, a second-grader at Park Elementary School in Brooklyn Park, Md., was suspended for two days after he nibbled his breakfast pastry (similar to a Pop-Tart) into what at least one teacher and the assistant principal thought looked like a gun. A letter from the school went home to parents describing the incident, informing them that counselors would be on-hand if their children needed further assistance.

Fast-forward to May 2013 and Josh is back in the news. This time he’s been awarded lifetime membership into the National Rifle Association, thanks to the efforts of Anne Arundel county Republicans.

I’ve made this appeal often, but it bears repeating. Public relations and proper messaging is all about calibrating one’s response. While the US gun debate is no laughing matter – New York City just endured a weekend where 25 people were shot and six killed – suspension of an elementary school student isn’t trivial either. Overreaction to the “pistol pastry” left a critical opening for pro-gun Republicans to respond with equal farce.

Now, a very serious matter has been turned into a joke.

But what’s your take on all of this? Was the Park Elementary School response valid? Can something as dangerous as gun violence still be lampooned? And what do you think young Josh – now 8 – learned from the incident and incident response?  I’d love to hear your views on this very divisive topic!

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