Local action and federal assistance form the basis of the Trump administration’s plan for improving school safety, rolled out last night nearly a month after the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school. The White House proposal offers firearms training for school personnel on a voluntary basis and endorses the Fix-NICS bill to close key gaps in federal background checks on firearms purchases. Otherwise, the plan mainly urges state and local officials to make changes to facility security and restraining order laws, which left some critics less than satisfied with the result:
The Trump administration on Sunday night proposed providing some school personnel with “rigorous” firearms training and backed a bill to improve criminal background checks on gun buyers, but backpedaled on the idea of increasing the minimum age to buy certain firearms — a policy President Donald Trump had said he would support.
The proposals, which come more than three weeks after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, also include a plan to establish a commission chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that will recommend policy and funding proposals for school violence prevention, including possible age restrictions on some firearms purchases. The commission does not have a set timeline of when it will report its findings, although an official said it would be within one year.
“Today we are announcing meaningful actions, steps that can be taken right away to help protect students,” DeVos said Sunday.
“Far too often the focus has been only on the most contentious fights — the things that have divided people and sent them into their entrenched corners,” she continued. “But the plan that we’re going to advance and talk about is a pragmatic plan to dramatically increase school safety and to take steps to do so right away.”
DeVos appeared on the Today show this morning to discuss the proposal, and Savannah Guthrie pounced on the lack of action on age limits for long-barrel purchases. Didn’t Donald Trump himself endorse such a limit, Guthrie wondered, and did it disappear from his proposal after the NRA “got to him”? No, DeVos replied, saying that it was a matter that the commission would study further, assuring Guthrie that “everything is on the table”:
The recommendation about arming teachers has gotten some odd coverage, and it led to this exchange during the interview:
GUTHRIE: Would there be an armed teacher in every classroom?
DEVOS: I don’t think that would be appropriate and I don’t think anybody would agree that would be.
GUTHRIE: What about in every grade?
DEVOS: I don’t think that would be either. The point is that schools should have this tool if they choose to use the tool. Communities should have the tools, states should have the tool but nobody should be mandated to do it.
GUTHRIE: Should the teachers wear their weapons outside so everybody can see it, including little kids presumably or should they conceal them so that there’s that element of surprise?
DEVOS: This is an issue that is best decided by local communities and by states. It is not going to be appropriate in every location, but it is going to be appropriate in some places.
GUTHRIE: Do you think they should be able to, teachers, should be able to carry assault weapons since presumably they may face assault weapons? Do you have an opinion on that?
DEVOS: I don’t think assault weapons in schools carried by any school personnel is the appropriate thing, but again this is an issue that I think is best decided at the local level by communities and by states.
This idea has mostly been misunderstood since it first arose. It is entirely a state and local issue because it is the states and local jurisdictions that have made schools “gun free zones,” which prevent teachers and administrators from voluntarily carrying weapons in these facilities. It’s not that the White House wants to force teachers to carry; they want state and local officials to remove that designation — which clearly has no impact on criminals — so that teachers can carry without penalty if they choose. Right now, they have no choice.
We have had this conversation before, too. After 9/11, we debated whether to allow pilots to carry firearms to prevent hijackings in the future. Not every pilot wanted to carry, but we changed the rules and created a program that allowed those pilots who did wish to do carry to do so. That has resulted in no mishaps because the pilots got training on being armed in flight. There is no reason to think that teachers who wish to carry could not receive similar training and be responsible enough to remain covertly armed, as more than sixteen million Americans with carry permits already do. Undoubtedly, some of those permits are issued to teachers already, and local and state laws are preventing them from doing so on the job.
And no, you don’t need an “assault weapon” to face off against someone with an AR-15. Handguns are just as lethal, and more so in the hands of someone trained to use one. Most police officers don’t carry AR-15s on their persons, either, for the same reason.
This is a common-sense plan to deal with school safety, focused on the proper jurisdictions. States and local authorities have to change their laws to end the “gun-free zones” that have proven just as effective as posting “drug-free neighborhood” signs. States have to enable gun-violence restraining orders, as federal courts would have no jurisdiction for those, either. That’s not a dodge; it’s a recognition of proper limits on authority.
The federal government can and should fix the reporting gaps in the background-check system, which should have been done already, but let’s not kid ourselves, either. If Congress had passed Fix-NICS a year ago, the Parkland shooter would still have been able to buy his weapons because local police and the school district passed on dozens of opportunities to arrest and prosecute him earlier. It had nothing to do with his age (19) at the time he bought the AR-15. Until schools and local police enforce existing law on criminal behavior, restricting the choices for law-abiding citizens is a non-sequitur response. It’s long past time to end the Promise program at the Department of Education and instead incentivize strict enforcement of school rules and local laws.