School Safety Commission recommends arming staff (VIDEO)

The president’s Federal Commission on School Safety said this week districts should arm trained personnel if they want to, cautioning there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution to preventing school violence across America.

“The average duration of an active shooter incident at a school is under five minutes, so all of this horrible carnage takes place in a very short period of time,” President Trump said Tuesday. “That’s why it’s critical to have armed personnel available at a moment’s notice. These are people — teachers in many cases — that are the highest trained that you can get. People that are natural to firearms. People that know how to handle them.”

The recommendation comes from a 180-page report released by the commission Tuesday, 10 months after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida left 17 dead and 17 wounded.

“There is no universal school safety plan that will work for every school across the country. Such a prescriptive approach by the federal government would be inappropriate, imprudent, and ineffective,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, chair of the commission, said in a letter Tuesday. “We focused instead on learning more about, and then raising awareness of, ideas that are already working for communities across the country.”

Lake Hamilton School District in Pearcy, Arkansas told the commission over the summer its program arming volunteer, trained personnel provides an extra layer of defense in buildings where police response may be up to 30 minutes away.

“While we are blessed to have excellent law enforcement officers … because of where we’re located, the last two sheriffs here in Garland County told me we could expect 20 to 30 minutes’ wait time if an active shooter situation happened on campus before an officer could be here,” Superintendent Steve Anderson said. “We’re not willing to take that chance. We need someone to protect our kids.”

Anderson’s comments came during one of the commission’s four field visits to districts across the country between May and August. The field visits, coupled with public meetings and discussions with experts in education, safety and mental health, helped shape nearly 150 recommendations contained within the report, Trump said.

The commission also suggested states consider Red Flag laws and supported programs in schools addressing cyber bullying, expanding support staff for students with mental health issues and encouraging reporting of suspicious behavior to improved law enforcement tip lines. Crucially, the commission said placing age restrictions on long gun sales would do little to prevent future shootings — angering education and gun control groups alike.

“The commission appears to punt on the question of arming teachers, rather than taking a strong stance against it, even though parents, students and teachers agree: Putting more guns in schools only risks making schools less safe,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “But Betsy DeVos continually advocates for this lunacy. The report doesn’t recommend age restrictions on firearms and appears more concerned with the National Rifle Association and the school security industry than with the needs of the people in classrooms. ”

“This report is a mixed bag,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun safety. “When it comes to arming teachers, let’s be clear: Putting guns in classrooms will make our children less safe, and any suggestion to the contrary is blind to both the facts and common sense.”

“Putting more guns in schools doesn’t make us safer,” said Simone Carrasco, a Florida high school student and volunteer with Students Demand Action. “I don’t want teachers in my school to be armed — what I want is for our leaders to pass laws that keep guns out of the wrong hands in the first place. Instead of putting more guns in our schools, we should focus on real solutions like background checks on all gun sales and Red Flag laws.”

Trump touted Congress’s passage of the Fix NICS Act and the STOP School Violence Act this year as evidence of his administration’s support for a legislative fix to school shootings. The Department of Justice also finalized a regulation banning bump stocks — more than a year after the massacre at a country music festival in Las Vegas — just this week.

“The Trump administration is taking action to prevent and deter violence in our schools,” Acting Attorney General Whitaker said Tuesday. “The Department of Justice is already directing funding to hire school resource officers, improving our background check systems, and prosecuting violent offenders at record levels. Today’s report provides a substantive blueprint for this Administration’s next steps to protect our young people.”

The commission also encouraged media outlets to stop reporting the names and photos of mass shooters, lest the stories inspire copycat shooters. It’s a long-simmering debate with prominent voices on both sides, including the NRA.

“The report includes a number of recommendations for which the NRA has been advocating for years, including reforming our mental health laws, strengthening school security, and addressing an increasingly violent culture,” NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox said. It also calls on the media to stop reporting the names and photos of mass murderers, which only encourages copycat behavior.”

Cox praised the commission for rejecting age restrictions on gun sales and supporting Red Flag laws with “strong due process protections.” “The recommendations in the commission report will go a long way towards preventing violence and making children safer in our schools,” he said.

Weingarten, however, criticized the administration for offering “no coherent plan” to address the root causes of gun-related violence — a problem she perceives stems from “too many guns in our communities and not enough investment in addressing the social-emotional health of our kids.”

The commission said in its report, however, the responsibility of ensuring a child’s health and well being falls to to family first.

“Ensuring the safety of our children begins within ourselves, at the kitchen table, in houses of worship, and in community centers. The recommendations within this report do not and cannot supplant the role families have in our culture and in the lives of children,” DeVos said. “Our country’s moral fabric needs more threads of love, empathy, and connection.”

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