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Trump's focus is on arming teachers

By BRIAN BENNETT
Tribune Washington Bureau

March 12. 2018 8:35PM




WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is pushing forward with a plan to arm teachers and improve background checks for gun purchases, but has retreated from his promise to raise the age limit to buy certain kinds of weapons, a move many see as caving to the National Rifle Association.

Trump wrote Monday on Twitter that there is "not much political support (to put it mildly)" for raising the age limit from 18 to 21 to purchase powerful rifles like the one used to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month.

During a meeting with six students and families from the Florida high school in the White House last month, Trump pledged to be "strong" on increasing the age limit.

A recent CNN poll found strong support for the idea, including among Republicans.

But Trump backed off that stance in recent weeks, following a White House meeting with NRA officials.

Rather than push for the comprehensive gun legislation he urged Congress to pass just last month, Trump now wants state and local officials to take the lead in setting age limits and other issues.

"States are making this decision," Trump wrote Monday, making an apparent reference to Republican Gov. Rick Scott's decision to sign a state law requiring gun buyers to be 21 and imposing a three-day waiting period on most gun purchases.

The Florida bill also allows school staff to carry firearms, an idea Trump has championed but that is opposed by the National Education Association, the largest teachers lobby in the country, and other groups.

"Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law," Trump wrote Monday.

The Trump administration wants to help states provide teachers with "rigorous" firearms training, a White House official said Sunday night during a call with reporters describing the administration's efforts to prevent school shootings. But it was unclear if that meant offering new federal funding.

"The point is that schools should have this tool if they choose to use the tool," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on NBC's "Today" show. "Communities should have the tools, states should have the tool, but nobody should be mandated to do it."

DeVos will lead the Federal Commission on School Safety to study ways to prevent school shootings, and make specific recommendations, the White House announced Sunday.

When asked if her commission would consider raising the age limit on guns, DeVos said the group would look at it, but was noncommittal about what might emerge.

The commission will also look at entertainment rating systems for violent video movies and games, how the media covers mass shootings, and whether and Obama-era program to "rethink" school discipline should be dismantled, among other things.

Trump's creation of another commission was surprising given his comments Saturday at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, where he derided the usual Washington practice of creating a "blue-ribbon committee" to "talk, talk, talk" about problems, rather than taking decisive action.

In addition to setting up DeVos' commission, the White House is backing a bill designed to improve the federal background check system currently used for gun store purchases, and supports a separate piece of legislation to authorize grants for violence prevention training in schools.

But the White House considers a bill that raises the age limit on gun purchases to be unlikely to pass.

The President has decided to focus first on "pushing through things that have broad bipartisan support" like background checks, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. Age limits on guns, is "one of those things that will be reviewed," she said.

"He hasn't backed away from these things at all," Sanders said about raising the age limit. "We are focused on things we can do immediately."

The Department of Justice is pushing through new regulations to ban the sale of "bump stocks" that make rifles fire like automatic weapons, a product used by a gunman to kill 59 people from a window of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas last October.


Politics Gun Control


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