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Gun violence in the US

Trump doubles down on arming teachers after praising ‘great patriots’ of the NRA

Trump also said he thought that using drills to train children on how to react during a shooting was a ‘negative thing’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 February, 2018, 11:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 5:44am

A day after he promised to tighten up firearms laws, US President Donald Trump has begun to swing back towards his pro-gun base, praising the National Rifle Association and doubling down on claims that schoolteachers should be armed.

At a meeting at the White House with state and local officials early Thursday afternoon, Trump talked of “hardening” schools and protecting them like “banks” by paying teachers a small bonus to carry a concealed gun.

He also said that preparing children for possible gun attacks at schools with regular drills was “a very negative thing”. 

Those remarks came after he tweeted his support for the NRA, which vehemently opposes placing restrictions on gun sales, calling them “Great People and Great American Patriots”.

In the White House meeting, Trump talked of providing “highly adept people, people who understand weaponry, guns … [with] a concealed permit”.

He suggested paying bonuses to armed, trained teachers, suggesting that “10, 20, 40 per cent” of teachers could be qualified.

“I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected,” he said. “We have to harden our sites.”

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Trump also said that drills to teach students how to respond if an active shooter ever enters the premises “are a very negative thing.”

He said he wouldn’t want to tell his son, 11-year-old privately schooled Barron, that he has to go through an active-shooter drill. 

In contrast at the meeting, Christine Hunschofsky, the mayor of Parkland, where last week’s high school shooting took place, addressed safety and mental health.

He then alluded to the assault rifle used in the massacre, saying: “And then in the end how did somebody like this person get access to that kind of firearm?”

Earlier on Thursday – and a day after he met parents, teachers and students from the Parkland school – Trump tweeted effusive praise for the NRA.

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“What many people don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, is that Wayne, Chris and the folks who work so hard at the @NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots,” Trump said in a Thursday morning tweet.

“They love our Country and will do the right thing. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” 

Wayne LaPierre is the NRA’s chief executive officer; Chris Cox is the group’s chief lobbyist.

Several of the parents and students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School urged the president on Wednesday to toughen gun laws. The NRA has forcefully lobbied against stricter laws on firearms.

Trump’s tweet came just minutes before LaPierre took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he criticised Democrats including Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut for “politicising” the shooting in Parkland.

LaPierre said “elites” want to “eradicate all individual freedoms.”

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“They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of family, the failure of America’s mental health system, and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI [which failed to locate the shooter after tip-offs],” LaPierre said.

LaPierre also called for more armed security at schools and criticised the notion of making schools “gun-free zones,” which he said are targets for potential shooters, echoing comments Trump has made. The president is expected to speak at the event on Friday.

The NRA is one of the biggest spenders in elections, ranking ninth among all outside groups, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics. In 2016, the NRA’s political arms spent US$54.4 million influencing elections, Federal Election Commission records show.

That included US$19.8 million attacking Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and US$11.4 million promoting Trump. The NRA also spent US$500,000 or more on seven Senate races, including in battleground states Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Trump was endorsed by the NRA and has routinely touted his support for the organisation, and his campaign said he opposed expanding the background check system or imposing new restrictions on gun and magazine bans.

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He flipped that script on Wednesday, saying that he would push “comprehensive background checks” with an emphasis on mental health, and suggesting a ban on bump-stock modifications that allow for fully automatic firing rates from semi-auto rifles.

However, since then he has been pushing for armed teachers – a policy that will chime better with the NRA than gun restrictions.

Trump said in a tweet earlier Thursday that 20 per cent of teachers “would now be able to immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. 

“Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards.”

So far the only change to gun laws under Trump’s administration was the removal of an Obama-era gun rule aimed at preventing people with serious mental illness from buying guns was one of the first targets of Republicans in Congress last year. 

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Lawmakers used a special procedure under the Congressional Review Act to do away with the rule.

Although Trump has suggested that bump-stock modifications should be banned, the path to such an action is neither simple nor quick.

A ban by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) would likely thrust it into a prolonged legal battle with gun manufacturers while the devices remain on the market. 

But any congressional effort to create new gun control laws would need support from the pro-gun Republican majority. And Republicans have moved in the other direction, attempting to loosen gun laws, even after 59 people were killed in Las Vegas.

Acting ATF director Thomas Brandon has sent mixed signals on what the agency can do. 

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He told lawmakers in December that the ATF and Justice Department would not have initiated the review if a ban “wasn’t a possibility at the end,” but he has also expressed doubt that it would be able to do so without congressional intervention.

ATF reviewed bump stocks and approved them in 2010, finding they did not amount to machine guns that are regulated under the National Firearms Act that dates to the 1930s.

It would be legally problematic and politically untenable for the ATF to change course on its earlier finding, said Michael Bouchard, a retired assistant director who is now president of the ATF Association. 

Reversing its earlier evaluation could be seen as an admission that it was legally flawed, which manufacturers could seize on in court, he said.

“How can they just change their mind now and go to court and defend that position, other than to say the president told us to find a way to ban them?” said Bouchard.

“There are so many other kinds of devices that mimic what a bump stock does, it’s a can of worms as to which one you ban and which one you don’t.”

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At a CNN town hall event on Tuesday, a student who survived the Stoneman Douglas shooting asked Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, whether he would pledge to stop accepting financial contributions from the NRA. When Rubio declined to make that pledge, he was jeered by the crowd.

Gun stocks rose Thursday after declining the two prior days. American Outdoor Brands Corp. rose 4.1 per cent to US$10.48 and Sturm Ruger & Co. was up 3.2 per cent to US$48.80 at 11:40am New York time.

A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday found 97 per cent support for universal background checks, while 67 per cent backed a ban on the sale of assault weapons.