Our View: LU, to the rescue

Posted: May 4, 2013

Parents, at least those of certain generations, have long taught their kids to own up to mistakes, to take responsibility immediately. It’s called “doing the right thing.”

Well, Cole Withrow, an 18-year-old Eagle Scout from North Carolina thought he was“doing the right thing” earlier this week. Now he’s facing a felonious weapons charge.

Maybe you’ve heard about Cole’s case, maybe not. The story is this: After a weekend camping trip with his buddies, Cole inadvertently left two unloaded shotguns — the boys had gone skeet shooting — in his truck. When he reached school Monday, he noticed the guns and went promptly to the front office of Princeton High southeast of Raleigh and called his mom to come get them.

Here’s where the story gets crazy, a tale of “zero tolerance” run amok. A Johnston County school system employee overheard Cole’s conversation — and called police, who arrested him for unlawfully possessing weapons on school property.

Initial reports indicated that Cole, a senior honor student, had been expelled from school for a year, and thus would not graduate later this spring with friends he’s known since pre-school. It’s since been confirmed that Cole has been suspended, but will be allowed to complete his secondary education, albeit at an alternative school. What’s more, it’s been said that scholarship and student-aid offers from in-state universities are in jeopardy as a result of the gun charge.

Still, recent developments suggest a reversal of fortune. In the short time since news of his arrest went viral — courtesy of a “Free Cole” campaign initiated on social media by friends and classmates — folks and institutions far and wide have rallied to Cole’s cause. Most conspicuous has been Liberty University.

University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. was traveling in North Carolina when he saw the case splashed across local television. He noticed, in these accounts, that Cole was wearing a Liberty T-shirt.

Not only did Mr. Falwell wonder about the connection — a call back to Lynchburg revealed that Cole’s sister is a Liberty grad — but he also concluded, on the spot, that Cole would fit in well at the school. And so he has offered the youngster monetary aid — any amount requisite to making ends meet — to continue his studies at Liberty.

“I was really impressed with what a meek and humble Christian kid he is,” Mr. Falwell said. “I thought he would be a perfect fit at Liberty.”

So, the Cole Withrow saga might, in fact, “end well,” as they say. But this hardly diminishes 1) the ridiculous nature of the charge against him, 2) the nonsensical behavior of an eavesdropping school employee unable to differentiate between a genuine threat and an obvious oversight, and 3) the loss of any discriminatory sense these “zero tolerance” laws inspire.

Finally, there’s the matter of intent. As we see it, criminal behavior requires criminal intent. Since when is “doing the right thing” criminal? And where, in God’s name, have we left our common sense?