Trump school safety plan backs arming teachers, drops controversial gun measures

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, right, and President Donald Trump listen as Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill speaks during a meeting with state and local officials to discuss school safety, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The White House has released details of President Donald Trump’s proposal to improve school safety in the wake of a fatal mass shooting at a Florida high school, but critics say it fails to address some key issues and dodges subjects that could prove thorny with his pro-gun base.

The president’s proposal, released nearly a month after the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, largely reflects priorities he has laid out in public appearances and tweets in recent weeks: arming teachers, hardening schools, and taking limited steps on gun control.

(If you are viewing on a mobile app, click here to take poll)

Under the plan, the Justice Department would assist states to provide rigorous firearms training for teachers who want it. The administration also wants to encourage veterans and retired law enforcement officers with weapons training to go into education.

The president is endorsing two pieces of legislation already introduced in Congress. One is the STOP School Violence Act that authorizes grants for violence prevention training for teachers and students.

The administration is also fully throwing its support behind legislation co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The White House is encouraging states to pass laws allowing risk protection orders that would authorize law enforcement to take guns away from people deemed to be a threat to themselves and others. Florida recently became the fifth state to introduce so-called “red flag” orders.

In addition, Trump wants to see better coordination between mental health professionals, schools, and law enforcement, and he is ordering a full audit of the FBI’s tip line after a warning about Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was mishandled by FBI call-takers.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders insisted at Monday’s White House briefing that Trump has not abandoned raising the minimum age to purchase some firearms, but his proposal is focused on things with broad bipartisan support and things the executive branch can do administratively.

“He hasn’t backed away from these things at all. They’re still outlined in the plan, but he can’t make them happen with the stroke of a pen,” she said.

Trump, who has tapped Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to lead a Federal Commission on School Safety that may examine some restrictions on gun rights, defended his plan on Twitter Monday.

“Very strong improvement and strengthening of background checks will be fully backed by White House. Legislation moving forward. Bump Stocks will soon be out. Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law. Armed guards OK, deterrent!” he tweeted.

The National Education Association was disappointed by Trump’s proposal, which includes several measures the organization that represents 3 million teachers has previously opposed.

“Let us be crystal clear and reiterate that our students need fewer guns in schools — not more of them — and bringing guns into our schools does absolutely nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said in a statement Monday.

The proposal has received a mixed response from Congress, including senators from Florida.

“I applaud the President for supporting many of the initiatives I have offered that will promote gun safety, including incentivizing states to adopt Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) and the Stop School Violence Act,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in a statement.

“The answer to protecting our kids and communities is not more guns in our schools or arming teachers. That's a terrible idea. We should be focused on expanding background checks and getting these military-style assault rifles off the streets,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

School safety experts see some positive aspects of Trump’s plan, but other elements are causing concern.

According to Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, encouraging states to audit school district emergency plans is helpful because many states have “few carrots and no sticks” to incentivize planning. He is also pleased by Trump’s support for the STOP School Violence Act.

“Today, that’s the most balanced, on-target proposal I’ve seen in the whole discussion at the federal level even since Sandy Hook,” he said of the legislation.

However, he does not support the widespread arming of teachers.

“I think it’s a high risk, high liability proposition,” he said.

If the DeVos commission brings in school safety professionals instead of special interests and political insiders, Trump sees some opportunity for progress, noting that a school safety commission in Oklahoma has been very productive.

Chris Dorn, a senior analyst at Safe Havens International, only sees value in having teachers carry weapons in limited situations, but he does like the idea of having more people with military or law enforcement backgrounds working in schools.

“If we are going to arm teachers, this may be one of the best groups to look at if they are current on their training and have been properly screened and vetted,” he said.

He also believes schools need more consistent recommendations for best practices and the resources to train for and implement them.

“The biggest thing that would help schools is more support and funding for basic security