White House Unveils Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence at Schools

Plan would fund training for armed teachers in wake of Florida school shooting but omits President Trump’s call to raise age limit for buying guns

President Donald Trump, center, called for paying bonuses to armed school staff in a Feb. 22 meeting at the White House with local and state officials on school safety. Photo: Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg News

ByMichael C. Bender
The Wall Street Journal
March 12, 2018

WASHINGTON—The White House on Sunday announced a plan to reduce gun violence at schools that includes spending federal money on training school staffers to carry concealed weapons, but not President Donald Trump’s earlier call to raise the age limit for buying guns.

Instead, the plan creates a federal panel to study age restrictions and other potential changes in laws and to make recommendations later.

The White House blueprint, which comes in the wake of last month’s mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school, calls for “hardening our schools” by instituting security procedures comparable to those in airports, sports stadiums and government buildings. One way to do that, the White House said, is to use Justice Department grants to train school personnel to carry weapons “on a voluntary basis.”

Reducing School Gun Violence

Here is a summary of the White House proposals.

  • Assist states in training school staff in firearms use.
  • Allow military veterans and retired police to work as school-safety personnel.
  • Support legislation by Sens. John Cornyn (R., Texas) and Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) to improve background checks for gun purchases.
  • Support the proposed STOP School Violence Act to provide funding for safety improvements including violence-prevention training for teachers and students.
  • Call on states to allow police, with court approval, to remove firearms from people who are a threat to themselves or others.
  • Ban “bump stock” devices that allow some firearms to function as machine guns.
  • Form a commission to study age restrictions for gun purchases and the effects of violent video games and other entertainment and press coverage of mass shootings.

“There’s no time to waste,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who presented the plan to reporters. The Wall Street Journal reported some of the details of the plan on Saturday.

The Trump administration plan also calls on states to adopt laws allowing police, with court approval, to remove firearms from people who are a threat to themselves or others and to temporarily prevent those people from purchasing new guns.

The plan also seeks improvements to mental-health systems to help identify and treat individuals who may be a threat. Those changes include increased integration of mental health, primary health care and family services.

The plan calls for improvements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation tip line, which was faulted for failing to act on warnings ahead of the Parkland shooting.

The blueprint contains Mr. Trump’s support for two gun-related bills being considered by Congress, officials said. One, known as the “Fix NICS” bill, is designed to improve background checks for gun purchases, although the measure has run into hurdles in Congress.

The second measure, the STOP School Violence Act, would authorize $50 million a year for school-safety improvements, including violence-prevention training for teachers and students.

“The White House has taken tiny baby steps designed not to upset the NRA, when the gun violence epidemic in this country demands that giant steps be taken,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said in a statement. “Democrats in the Senate will push to go further including passing universal background checks, actual federal legislation on protection orders, and a debate on banning assault weapons.”

Ms. DeVos called the White House proposal a “pragmatic plan to dramatically increase school safety.”

“We’ve had to talk about this topic way too much over the years,” Ms. DeVos said about school shootings. “There’s been a lot of talk in the past, but very little action.”

Ms. DeVos will chair the new Federal Commission on School Safety, which would study issues such as increasing the age to buy some guns to 21, the effect of violence in videogames and movies on children, and identifying the best violence-prevention strategies.

The creation of the commission comes a day after Mr. Trump, during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, ridiculed similar panels that “meet and they have a meal and they talk.” “We can’t just keep setting up blue-ribbon committees,” the president said.

There is no deadline set for Ms. DeVos’s panel to present its findings, White House officials said. The officials also declined to comment on Mr. Trump’s assessment of such commissions and said the age-restriction issue was “a state-based discussion.”

Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks the age limit to buy certain guns should be 21 years old, a restriction certain to draw the ire of the gun lobby if Mr. Trump’s school-safety commission recommends the change. The National Rifle Association, the nation’s leading gun lobby, sued the state of Florida over that issue after GOP Gov. Rick Scott signed a new gun law Friday.

Mr. Trump has held several meetings with lawmakers, school administrators, students and families who have suffered from gun violence, and NRA executives. During the meetings, the president has signaled his interest in a range of options and scrambled the traditional political lines on an issue that has divided Americans for decades.

During one meeting, Mr. Trump dashed conservative hopes that he would support a proposal to allow gun owners who legally carry concealed firearms in one state to carry them in the other 49 states. The measure has long been a goal of the NRA and gun owners.

He also bucked Republican orthodoxy by suggesting the swift removal of guns from people who are potentially mentally ill.

But in recent weeks, Mr. Trump also has made clear his belief that “gun-free zones” make schools less safe, increasing the chances that gun massacres go unanswered.
“A gun-free zone is, ‘Let’s go in and let’s attack, because bullets aren’t coming back at us,’” Mr. Trump said at a meeting in February.

Part of his response is to suggest that school staff members be armed, a move that has been opposed by gun-control advocates and teachers unions, but is favored by the NRA.

The Justice Department said Saturday that its bump-stock ban would amend the definition of machine guns in the National Firearms and Gun Control Act to include bump-stock-type devices. The regulation must undergo review by the Office of Management and Budget before it can take effect.

“President Trump is absolutely committed to ensuring the safety and security of every American, and he has directed us to propose a regulation addressing bump stocks,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

Bump stocks became part of the national conversation over gun control last year, when the devices were found on weapons used in the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people on Oct. 1.

Mr. Trump foreshadowed the bump-stock regulation at a cabinet meeting Thursday. “Bump stocks are just about finished, from the standpoint of getting the legal work done,” Mr. Trump said.