'Glee' Gun Episode Sparks Debate Among Newtown Community, Special Needs Advocates

A student with Down's Syndrome brings a gun to school on the Fox dramedy.

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As the debate over gun control rages on in Congress, the quirky Fox musical dramedy "Glee" jumped into the ring with Thursday's episode "Shooting Star."

In the episode, Becky, a student with Down's Syndrome, brings a gun into school and accidentally fires it in the office of her cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester. Before firing the gun, she expresses anxiety about graduating high school, fearing that there will be no where to go after.

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The sounds of gunshots send the other students into a frenzy, who think a school shooting is underway, but ultimately no one is hurt. Sue takes the blame for the incident, hiding that it was Becky who brought the gun, but not before expressing her concerns to the principal about state of the nation's mental health system. She also adds, "Parents with troubled kids are too busy working three jobs to look after them, and the gun yahoos have everyone so worked up about Obama taking away their guns that every house has a readily available arsenal."

As anything associated with the current gun debate, a topic especially hot in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting last December, "Shooting "Star" sparked fierce reactions. The Newtown Action Alliance, a volunteer organization working to reduce gun violence, warned followers of its Facebook page "to either not watch it tonight or watch with caution," prior to the episode.

Nevertheless, a Sandy Hook parent has spoken out publicly against the episode. Andrew Paley, whose two sons survived the shooting, wrote on Facebook:

"It's too soon as our kids and our own wounds are still too new. I understand keeping it in the minds of the Nation but dammit [sic], at least let the people of Newtown know beforehand. I found out because an old friend who blogs about the show gave me a heads up. The producers should be ashamed to not think of us and how we'd feel if we just happened to be watching."

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Another person connected to the shooting, the boyfriend of a substitute teacher killed at Sandy Hook, supported Glee for taking on the subject.

"As long as it keeps the subject in the public's mind I'm all for it. My Lauren was a huge fan of the show. So I'm sure she would have approved," Anthony Lusardi wrote on Facebook.

Producers say that the episode was written before the Sandy Hook shooting. Nevertheless, some critics contend that it should still have held the episode.

Also causing controversy is that "Glee" chose a special needs character to bring the gun to school. Organizations that work with people with special needs have praised Glee's portrayal of disabilities in the past, as well as producer's hiring an actress with Down Syndrome to play the character of Becky. However, David Tolleson, executive director the National Down Syndrome Congress has two issues with the episode. For one, he says federal law has created transition programs for students with disabilities to help access the many work and educational opportunities that exist after graduation. Neglecting this in the story line "sends a bad message to new parents, or prospective parents or children that the future is bleak," says Telleson, who hopes future episodes will show such programs and the opportunities that exist for Becky after graduation.

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Secondly, he worries that having Becky bring a gun to school sends a bad message about Down Syndrome, particularly to those who don't understand the disorder and confuse it with mental illness. "The message that they take away is that people with Down Syndrome or other disabilities are mentally unstable or show poor judgement that can endanger others," he says.

Lauren Potter, the actress that plays Becky, and her mother, Robin Sinkhorn, defended "Shooting Stars." Sinkhorn told the Huffington Post, "Whether she has Down syndrome or not, it doesn't matter ... Why wouldn't it be somebody with Down syndrome because she's a kid. She's a teenager. She makes stupid decisions just like other teenagers do."