Plan to ‘harden’ schools against mass shooting attacks backtracks on pledge to raise the age limit for buying certain guns
The Trump administration will use existing justice department funding to help train teachers and other school personnel to use firearms in an attempt to “harden” schools against mass shooting attacks, the White House announced on Sunday.
Homeland security officials will also work with states to develop a public awareness campaign to prevent school shootings based on the “See something, say something” campaign launched after 9/11, which encourages members of the public to stay vigilant and report potential signs of terrorism.
The administration would work with states to provide “rigorous firearms training” to “qualified volunteer school personnel,” Andrew Bremberg, the director of the president’s domestic policy council, said. No figures were given for the amount of money the plan would cost.
But in its watered-down new school safety plan, the White House backed away from other proposals the president had previously endorsed, including raising the legal age to buy certain guns.
The president had clashed with the National Rifle Association over the issue of raising age limits to purchase rifles such as the one used in the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida in February. “It should all be at 21,” Trump said in late February. “And the NRA will back it.”
The NRA remained firm, and filed a federal lawsuit on Friday challenging the legality of Florida’s newly passed age restrictions on buying rifles and other long guns.
Instead, the president backed away from the issue, assigning the question of whether age limits should be raised on some gun purchases to a new federal commission on school safety, chaired by education secretary Betsy DeVos.
The White House also endorsed a piece of bipartisan legislation that would improve the nation’s background check system for gun sales by providing incentives for federal agencies to comply with the current law. It did not endorse a bill that would actually close some of the gaping loopholes in the nation’s background check system, despite Trump’s words of praise for stronger legislation in a public meeting with Democratic lawmakers in late February.
Trump did endorse two policy proposals with strong support from gun violence prevention advocates. He called on states across the country to pass extreme risk protection orders, which would provide law enforcement and family members with a legal way to petition a court to temporarily remove an unstable person’s guns, and block them from buying new ones. A senior administration official emphasised that this process would include respect for due process, while giving law enforcement officers the ability to temporarily take away guns from extremely high-risk people.
The White House also endorsed the bipartisan STOP School Violence Act and asked Congress provide funding to support evidence-based school violence prevention programs. This legislation is endorsed by Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit founded by some of the family members of the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, which has been working with school districts across the country to implement its “Know the Signs” programs.
White House officials attempted to frame Trump’s proposal as a bold step forward.
“We’ve had to talk about this topic way too much over the years,” DeVos said on Sunday night. “There’s been a lot of talk in the past, but very little action.”
Pressed by reporters to explain why forming a new commission to discuss school safety was an example of action, rather than more talk, senior administration officials had few answers. They declined to give any specific timeline for the DeVos’ commission to produce recommendations, other than saying it would be less than a year, and the commission would work “quickly.”