Big Brother is Alive & Well

- and He Wants to Help You and Your Children By...

People with little historical imagination and bureaucracy in the very marrow of their bones are often like characters in some adolescent horror movie series. Just when you think they're gone for good ---- "they're back."

Several years ago I related two sagas of the bureaucratic abuse of living history presenters in Maryland. In one case, a Civil War reenactor and student teacher was arrested for bringing an original Model 1842 musket to school when his class covered the Civil War. The other involved Raleigh Boaze, a long time visiting interpreter in western Maryland schools who, using the results of his archival research and artifact collection, provided children with a unique class on the state's 18th century frontier. Raleigh's presentations were banned because they involved a firearm - his flintlock rifle!

Absurd as it may seem to those living in more enlightened climes (getting rarer these days, I must admit), both men were the victims of a law banning firearms on school premises. I think it safe to say that the law had absolutely no effect on the thugs and hoodlums at whom it was purportedly directed. But, as with much legislation today, it made people feel good, a state to which I would add the caveat of the old Irish saying, "the road to hell is often paved with good intentions."

With some help from friends gathered along the way, Raleigh waged a long, uphill, but ultimately successful fight to modify the law so that it exempted "persons who, with a written invitation from the school principal, display or engage in historical demonstrations using weapons or replicas of weapons for educational purposes." I reported on his campaign and the changes in the law in this column, and hope that I played some small part in the success of his efforts.

So is all well in Maryland then? So now a gun totin' thug caught in school should get his comeuppance, while history, with the aid of volunteers like Mr. Boaze, will once again come to life in the Maryland schools. Well, yes, in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, where Raleigh Boaze has resumed his presentations, at least, but not elsewhere.

On January 21, 1998, Boaze was invited to present his program at a Washington County school by the principal, the official whose approval is required by the law. Raleigh subsequently wrote Dr. Herman Bartlett, Superintendent of the Washington County Board of Education, and requested a list of other schools in the county, intending to advise them of his availability. When Bartlett did not respond by May 25, Raleigh, with the school year fast slipping away, Raleigh queried him again. This time, William B. McKinley, a board of education employee, advised Boaze that his request would be "taken to the Board as soon as May 19 or hopefully no later than June 2, 1998."

Well, we're dealing with bureaucrats here, and Raleigh got his answer when they got around to it - in a letter dated October 5, 1998 and allegedly mailed to him on that date! This correspondence tersely advised Boaze that the board "…will not support the display or presentation of historical firearms or firearms of any kind in our schools. We will instruct principals that such presentation will not be permitted." Worse yet, Raleigh was unaware of the existence of the letter until November, when, in response to a further inquiry, he received a copy from McKinley, with a note that "A copy of this letter was sent to you on Oct. 5, 1998. Sorry you did not receive it."

This sorry series of incidents weaves a tale of the incredibly shabby treatment of a man who has volunteered to enrich the historical experience of the schoolchildren of Washington County, Maryland. It should, however, also awaken all historically minded individuals who treasure the firearms of the past as symbols of American freedom that there is a growing minority of people, some in positions of power, who not only do not share that view, but are actively hostile to it.

Several quotes in an AP story on Raleigh Boaze's predicament are instructive. Joseph Millward, supervisor of pupil services for the Washington County Board of Education, is quoted as saying "The board members felt at the time that they did not want to send the message to students that any kind of firearms belong on school property for any reason." According to Ginni Wolf, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse Inc., "said children can see antique weapons in museums, movies and videos." According to Ms. Wolf, "We're not living in Revolutionary times anymore."

Groups like Ms. Wolf's have been telling us for years that they just want to keep modern handguns out of the hands of crazies and criminals. It seems their agenda has expanded. Take heed.

If any readers live in Washington County, Maryland, I would appreciate it if they would lend Raleigh a hand. Even though he is not a "Civil War guy," his fight is our fight. He can be reached at 1239 Rosemont Drive, Rosemont, MD 21758.

© 1999 by Joe Bilby

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