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White House to Help Arm School Staff

by AFP

Brendan Smialowski—AFP

Officials say administration’s plan also includes greater focus on mental health care

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration will step up aid to states that want to arm school employees under a plan to increase campus safety after the killing of 17 people in Florida, officials said on Sunday.

The controversial idea to put weapons in schools, which has drawn little support from educators, is part of a “pragmatic plan to dramatically increase school safety and to take steps to do so right away,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a conference call with reporters. “We are committed to working quickly because there’s no time to waste,” said DeVos, who will chair a federal commission on school safety.

Among other measures, the Trump administration is urging states to pass temporary “risk protection orders,” as Florida recently did, with technical assistance coming from Washington, said Andrew Bremberg, a presidential assistant who heads the Domestic Policy Council. These court-issued orders allow for law enforcement officers to remove guns from people who pose a demonstrated threat, “to temporarily prevent such individuals from purchasing new firearms, all while still protecting due process rights,” he said.

The moves come during a national gun control debate revived by survivors of last month’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 14 students and three staff were gunned down by a man with a semi-automatic rifle.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, on Twitter dismissed the administration’s measures as “baby steps designed not to upset @NRA,” the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby. “The administration will be working with states to provide rigorous firearms training to specifically qualified volunteer school personnel,” Bremberg said.

A senior administration official added that there are already “a multitude of programs that exist across the country where school personnel are trained in conjunction with state or local law enforcement.”

The administration is “working with the Department of Justice to continue and increase the amount of help” for such initiatives, the official said.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest professional union in the United States, has said that parents and educators “overwhelmingly reject the idea of arming school staff.”

The NRA has long argued for more armed security in U.S. schools, a plan Trump has advocated.

On Wednesday, Florida legislators approved funding for a program to allow some teachers and school employees to be armed. The measure came in a bill that raises the minimum age to purchase all firearms from 18 to 21, bans modification devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon to fire faster, and increases mental health funding.

Bremberg said the White House also wants more of a focus on mental health care, and will conduct “a full audit and review” of the FBI tip line, after criticism of the federal law enforcement agency for missing warning signs about the Florida shooter.

Separately, the senior administration official said “the first step” is for Congress to take action.

Trump is urging the House of Representatives and Senate to pass bills that would strengthen criminal background checks for gun purchases, and which would implement violence prevention programs.

The safety commission to be chaired by DeVos will include teachers and other experts. They will examine “the issue of age for purchasing firearms” and related matters before making recommendations to the president, the senior administration official said.

Late last month Trump had seemed to support tougher measures, including “very strong” background checks and raising to 21 the age for buying certain guns. “We really need to focus on prevention and identifying risks early on, and that starts with addressing social and emotional well-being and increasing access and consistency and transparency to mental health services,” DeVos said.

Schumer said America’s gun violence epidemic “demands giant steps be taken. @SenateDems will push to go further: passing universal #backgroundchecks, actual fed legislation on protection orders & a debate on #AssaultWeaponsBan.”

Mass shootings are the most high-profile type of firearms violence in the United States, which sees more than 30,000 gun-related deaths each year.

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