COEUR d'ALENE - Coeur d'Alene city police shut down a knife-selling operation Thursday in the parking lot of the TAJ convenience store across the street from Lakes Magnet Middle School.
A citizen, who asked not to be named, complained to the police and The Press about the operation being too close to the school. The complaint led officers to check out the outdoor, table-top business being conducted by two brothers in front of the convenience store.
"They were selling all kinds of different knives," said Sgt. Christie Wood. "There is a city ordinance that says you cannot sell merchandise without a permit, except for plants." The sellers were offering a wide variety of the sharp instruments including throwing knives, folding pocket knives, knives with spring-loaded blades and machetes.
The citizen, who lives in the neighborhood, said he complained because he was concerned about the operation being so close to a school.
"I have no problem with the right to bear arms. In fact, I own guns and knives," he said. "My problem is with all the school killings going on all over the country, does this make sense to let these guys sell knives to school kids?
"And these aren't just kitchen knives; these are knives that could be used to butcher somebody."
The two men who were selling the knives said they were just trying help out their family's business. And while they contend selling knives to minors is not against the law, they say they won't do it without parental consent.
"We are really careful about who we sell to," said Jacob Settle, who was selling the knives with his brother, Jedidah. "If a 16-year-old wants to buy a knife, we have them call their parents to get permission first."
Settle said for the past 12 years his family has owned and operated a consignment business selling knives in glass cases at many convenience stores, but a recent string of family problems has them selling in front of the TAJ convenience store.
"My dad was diagnosed with stage-four cancer, so we are out here trying to help the family out," he said. "They took care of me for 22 years, so now I want to help them."
Settle said his mother and father have nine children, and even though they would probably qualify for welfare, they don't accept any government assistance.
He said the family lives a self-sustaining lifestyle. His father personally delivered all nine of his children. They make almost all of their own clothing, and home-schooled all of their children.
"We have always lived like that," Settle said, explaining that they usually sell knives at carnivals and rodeos, but in the winter there are not many opportunities to do that. ??We've had a lot of family problems, so we are just trying to make a living."
Settle acknowledged that he does get complaints from time to time, but that's just part of the business.
"One guy even asked me if I had a conscience," he said. "Well, some people like guns and knives, and then there are those who don't."
The police asked the Settles to cease operations until they secure the proper permits from the city. Wood said if the Settles return without the proper licensing, they could face charges.
"If they come back, we will make sure they have the proper license," she said. "We understand the concern."
Laura Rumpler, spokeswoman for Coeur d'Alene public schools, told The Press that the knife-selling operation has been a concern for administrators at Lakes middle school for about two years.
"They've been diligent about communicating to the students that they cannot have knives in school," Rumpler said.
She said that Lakes Principal Jeff Bengtson and the school resource officer have been monitoring the situation and thought that the knife sales were legal because they were taking place on the convenience store's private property.
There is no evidence that the operation put knives in the hands of students at the middle school. Rumpler said Bengtson has not had to bring a Lakes student to a board expulsion hearing for a knife-related weapons offense any time this school year.
Ironically, shortly after police shut down the knife-selling operation on Thursday, a small knife was confiscated from a sixth-grade boy at Lakes.
It was an engraved Boy Scout pocket knife, a gift from the child's parents.
"It was totally unrelated. It fell out of his jacket pocket. He didn't even know he had it," Rumpler said. "But because we have a zero tolerance policy on knives, the student was suspended."
Under the school district's new weapons policy that was adopted last September, the student was not expelled and will not have to attend an expulsion hearing because the incident did not involve "brandishing" or "intent." Thursday's incident has been deemed a juvenile discipline issue which calls for parental notification and a one-day suspension, Rumpler said. The weapons policy was changed to accommodate situations like the one that occurred Thursday at Lakes.
Previously, school district policy and procedures required that all students caught with knives, regardless of the situation, had to be expelled and have a hearing before being allowed to return to school.
During the 2012-13 school year there were 50 student disciplinary hearings that went before the school board in Coeur d'Alene. Of those cases, 20 involved pocket knives and in each instance, the board immediately reinstated the student.
"The suspension still offers us an opportunity for a student to have a lesson learned, and for us to work with parents to make sure they understand the seriousness of the situation," Rumpler said.