Nothing better illustrates America’s abysmal failure to address the persistent public health crisis of mass shootings than the empty proposals put forth by the nation’s president in the aftermath of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day.
President Trump meeting with students, parents, and teachers at the White House
Arm our teachers, President Trump tweeted. Put an end to “gun free” schools and make them “hardened targets” instead. Arming teachers has been an idea pushed by the National Rifle Association, which donated $11 million to Trump’s 2016 campaign, since the killing of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
Responding to the Florida shooting, in which a 19-year-old former student killed 17 children and adults with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Trump repeatedly blamed “sicko” and “maniac” individuals for school shootings. He said he supported implementing comprehensive background checks “with an emphasis on mental health”; raising the gun-purchasing age to 21; ending sales of “bump stocks” that enable automatic fire; and arming “weapons talented teachers.”
Trump tweeted on February 22: “If a potential ‘sicko shooter’ knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school. Cowards won’t go there…problem solved.” In another tweet, Trump said: “A ‘gun free’ school is a magnet for bad people.” He proposed that armed teachers be given a pay bonus for their additional service.
Trump’s proposal to arm teachers—along with his accompanying insinuation that mental illness rather than lax gun control is the prime cause of school shootings—triggered an outcry from leading educational groups and medical associations. A summary of statements reacting to the Parkland shootings and Trump’s comments:
“Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence. Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms. Parents and educators overwhelmingly reject the idea of arming school staff.
“Educators need to be focused on teaching our students. We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.
“We owe it to the students and school personnel, who’ve lost their lives at schools and on campuses across the country, to work together so that we can thoughtfully and carefully develop common sense solutions that really will save lives.”
“Subsequent to the Sandy Hook shooting, the AASA Governing Board in July 2013 adopted a Position Paper on School Safety that says: ‘If we hope to prevent future tragedies at schools, we must comprehensively address both school safety and gun safety. Increased mental health services, community supports for youth, and new attitudes about violence in our entertainment must all be part of this approach. We must be willing to spend the time and resources necessary to make sustainable changes. AASA hopes that school leaders find ways of enhancing their current school safety procedures as outlined above, but we know federal funding is critical to ensuring schools remain the safest place for children to be.’
“The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) strongly opposes arming teachers as a strategy for preventing gun violence on school grounds. NASP joins virtually every other organization representing school and safety professionals in recognizing that arming school staff is wrong. Doing so places an unrealistic, unreasonable burden on America’s educators, has the potential to cause more harm from unintentional or inaccurate discharge of firearms, and can undermine the sense of safe, supportive learning environments.
“Equally important, the time and costs associated with training and arming school staff diverts critical human and financial resources away from strategies known to help decrease violent behaviors such as improved access to mental health services, effective threat assessment practices, properly trained school crisis response teams, and creating welcoming, inclusive school communities for all students.
“We need laws and policies that keep guns out of the hands of those who would hurt themselves or others and limit access to weapons intended to cause mass destruction in a short amount of time.
“Our nation must focus on the approaches that genuinely safeguard the well-being of our children and the school staff who work to educate, empower, and protect them every day. Putting more guns in schools is not one of those approaches.”
“NASRO strongly recommends that no firearms be on a school campus except those carried by carefully selected, specially trained school resource officers (SROs), who are career law enforcement officers with sworn authority, deployed by employing police departments or agencies in community-oriented policing assignments to work in collaboration with schools.
“There are several reasons for this recommendation:
—Law enforcement officers who respond to an incident at a school could mistake for an assailant a teacher or any other armed person who is not in a uniform.
—Anyone who hasn’t received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant.
—Firearm skills degrade quickly, which is why most law enforcement agencies require their officers to practice on a shooting range frequently (as often as once per month), under simulated, high-stress conditions. Anyone without such frequent, ongoing practice will likely have difficulty using a firearm safely and effectively.
—In addition to maintaining marksmanship, ongoing firearms practice helps law enforcement officers overcome the physiological response to stress than can reduce the fine motor skills required to accurately fire a weapon.
—Anyone who possesses a firearm on campus must be able to keep it both ready for use and absolutely secure. Law enforcement officers receive training that enables them to overcome attempts to access their weapons.
—Discharging a firearm in a crowded school is an extremely risky action, with consequences that can include the wounding and/or death of innocent victims. Law enforcement officers receive training and practice in evaluating quickly the risks of firing. They hold their fire when the risks to others are too high.”
Joint statement by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association:
“This senseless loss of life has become all too common in our country, ending lives, shattering families and disrupting the fabric of another community forever branded by this act of violence.
“Gun violence is a public health epidemic that is growing in frequency and lethality, and it is taking a toll on our patients. We urge our national leaders to recognize in this moment what the medical community has long understood: we must treat this epidemic no differently than we would any other pervasive threat to public health. We must identify the causes and take evidence-based approaches to prevent future suffering.
“Today, our organizations call on the President and the United States Congress to help prevent gun violence in the following ways:
—Label this violence caused by the use of guns a national public health epidemic.
—Fund appropriate research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of the FY 2018 omnibus spending package.
—Establish constitutionally appropriate restrictions on the manufacturing and sale, for civilian use, of large-capacity magazines and firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity.”
“While law enforcement is still piecing together the shooter’s motives, some public figures and news reports are focusing on his mental health. It is important to remember that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. Framing the conversation about gun violence in the context of mental illness does a disservice to the victims of violence and unfairly stigmatizes the many others with mental illness. More important, it does not direct us to appropriate solutions to this public health crisis.”