The Central Bucks School District has made it clear it has zero tolerance for guns and other weapons in school, though that message was not evident in the playbill for last weekend's C.B. West High School production of Hello Dolly.
The playbill contained a paid advertisement for handguns.
The half-page ad for Evolution Gun Works, or EGW, at 4050 Skyron Dr. in Buckingham, promotes "Custom Handguns for home defense and competition" and includes a sketch of a gun barrel.
It was unclear yesterday who authorized the ad. Central Bucks officials did not return several telephone calls for comment.
EGW owner George Smith admits he was a little shocked when someone from the school - he said he was unsure if it was an adult or a student - called and asked him to buy a $50 spot in the handbill.
"When they approached me, I said, 'Are you sure?' " Smith said yesterday. "I asked if there was a conflict because we are in the firearms industry, and it is viewed poorly by the public."
Smith said he did not sell guns over the counter. His shop makes and repairs customized weapons for a narrow group of gun enthusiasts. He said he did not even advertise in the telephone directory - he just liked the idea of his business supporting a student presentation.
National school-safety advocates say ads promoting handguns should not appear in any school publication - especially as administrators talk about creating a safer school community.
"Schools need to be very judicious about the kinds of marketing they may appear to endorse," said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center. "This appears to be inconsistent with the message we want to give. Firearms have no place in the schools."
Officials at the National Rifle Association declined comment.
David Hall, Democratic candidate for the 144th District state House seat and a teacher at North Penn High School in Towamencin, Montgomery County, wrote Central Bucks Superintendent N. Robert Laws after seeing the ad. He urged Central Bucks schools to adopt a gun-advertising ban similar to its ban on tobacco and alcohol ads.
"A kid can get expelled for bringing scissors into school but then see an ad promoting guns in the handbill for a school play," he said. "It is absolutely sending the wrong message."
Hall also called for a state law banning gun ads in school publications.
Republican Katharine M. Watson, Hall's opponent, said she had not seen the Central Bucks ad and cautioned against making "grand edicts" before consulting with school officials.
"I make no judgments until I know what we are talking about," she said. "I think the school board can handle this. They know their people best."
Evan Halper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 7, 2000
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