The White House pledged Sunday to help individual states provide “rigorous firearms training” to some teachers and endorsed a bill to tighten the federal background check system for gun purchasers, but backed off of President Donald Trump’s earlier endorsement of raising the minimum age to purchase some guns.
In a conference call with reporters, administration officials said Trump will urge states to give law enforcement the power to temporarily seize guns from people or preventing them from purchasing the weapons if they demonstrate a threat. The president will also support expanding mental health programs.
Trump earlier expressed support for raising the minimum age for buying assault weapons from 18 to 21, but the plan announced Sunday does not include that.
There has been an increased national focus on gun control policy following last month’s mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead. Authorities have charged a 19-year-old with the killings, saying he used a semi-automatic rifle.
Many students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have been vocal in calling for state and national leaders to take actions to ensure another such shootings do not happen again. Students across the country are planning a walkout Wednesday, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, as well as a march in Washington on March 24.
Trump wants to help states train specially qualified school personnel who volunteer to carry firearms and to encourage military veterans and retired police officers will be encouraged to seek new careers as teachers.
The idea of arming some teachers has been controversial and has drawn sharp opposition from the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers lobby, among other groups. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has said teachers should be focused on educating students and that there need to be solutions that will “keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators.”
Under the White House plan, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will chair a commission on school safety and violence that will report recommendations to Trump, probably within a year, according to administration officials. The panel will focus on a number of areas, including existing rating systems for “violent entertainment,” effects of press coverage of mass shootings, campus security best practices and the effectiveness of “psychotropic medication for treatment of troubled youth.”
DeVos characterized the administration’s efforts as “a pragmatic plan to dramatically increase school safety.”
“We are committed to working quickly because there’s no time to waste,” DeVos told reporters. “No student, no family, no teacher and no school should have to live the horror of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine again.”
Senator Chuck Schumer criticized the White House plan in a tweet Sunday night, saying the administration “has taken tiny baby steps designed not to upset” the National Rifle Association gun-lobbying group while a gun violence epidemic “demands giants steps be taken.” He pledged Democrats will push for stricter steps, including universal background checks for gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence was also critical of the Trump administration’s plan.
“Americans should be able to expect President Trump to follow-through on the critical measures he acknowledged were needed, but today’s announcement was woefully inadequate and showed a profound lack of leadership that is crucial at this time,” said the group’s Co-President Avery Gardiner.
Gardiner said the group also wants universal background checks, bans on new assault weapons and allowing court-issued restraining orders to prevent people who represent a threat to themselves or to others from having access to guns.
Florida enacted its own law last week banning the purchase of firearms by anyone under the age of 21.
The NRA has filed a lawsuit challenging the law, calling it “an affront” to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, which many believe enshrines gun ownership.