On Wednesday, President Trump hosted a listening session with school shooting survivors and families of victims at the White House. Rather than announce his support for legislative solutions already pending before Congress for quick action, the answer to unprecedented gun violence in our schools that he has settled upon is, you guessed it, the NRA’s position – even more guns in our schools!— let’s arm 20 percent of our teachers and make them part-time police officers authorized to use deadly force, an extra job that no one has suggested they be paid for!
President Trump on Thursday doubled down on his idea of arming some teachers as a deterrent for school shootings and praised the top leadership of the National Rifle Association as “Great American Patriots.”
This is a damn fool idea. The best explanation I have seen, so far, as to why this is so obviously a damn fool idea is from Lawrence O’Donnell in this segment of his The Last Word program on Wednesday evening. Lawrence: Why arming teachers is a fantasy war game (you may have to click on the video’s sound bar to get audio). UPDATE: Trump vowed during the 2016 campaign to end “gun free zones” at schools.
I cannot explain it any more clearly and succinctly than Lawrence O’Donnell does. Why can’t we have this kind of sound, informed, reasoned and rational analysis from our elected leaders? Instead of ridiculous bumper sticker slogans like “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun“? Because they are beholden to special interests like the gun lobby for their campaign financing.
Trump’s listening session was just a political stunt meant not to produce any actual effective solutions.
In a later tweet, Trump praised NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre and executive director Chris W. Cox, whose organization has advocated not overreacting to last week’s shooting.
Trump is secure in the knowledge that this Congress is never going to enact any of these positions.
In a statement this week, NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker noted that federal law prohibits anyone younger than 21 from purchasing a handgun from a licensed firearms dealer.
“Legislative proposals that prevent law-abiding adults aged 18-20 years old from acquiring rifles and shotguns effectively prohibits them for purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their constitutional right to self-protection,” Baker said.
Trump said during Friday’s listening session that he thought the NRA would support raising the age to 21.
“I don’t think I’ll be going up against them. … They’re good people,” said Trump, who also praised the organization more broadly. “The NRA is ready to do things. People like to blame them.”
UPDATE: Wrong! NRA opposes new age limits on gun purchases: The National Rifle Association (NRA) said Wednesday it opposes any new legislation that would put age restrictions on firearm purchases.
Vice President Pence did not mention increasing the minimum age as he addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference, which is being held in the Washington area this week.
Instead, Pence pointed to Trump’s call for members of Congress to “strengthen background checks” and for the Justice Department to expedite new regulations for “bump stocks,” devices that can convert a legal semiautomatic weapon into one that fires like a fully automatic one.
Trump’s memo to Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordering a proposal to ban bump stocks is a Hollow Gesture on Guns:
After the October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas, where a gunman used semi-automatic rifles fitted with bump stocks to murder 58 concert-goers, calls to ban the devices were deafening; California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill to outlaw them.
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But the legislation stalled, and instead, Republicans called on the ATF to conduct a review of the devices. The ATF had previously ruled on this issue in 2010, when they determined that, since using a bump stock requires the shooter to pull the trigger multiple times, it does not transform a weapon into a machine gun. (A machine gun is defined in federal law as a weapon capable of firing multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger, and the sale of new machine guns has been illegal since 1986).
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Even if the ATF did issue a ban on bump stocks, experts say it’s not likely to hold up in court. After all, the ATF previously decided that bump stocks shouldn’t be banned—and even sent a letter to Congress in 2013 declaring that “stocks of this type are not subject to the provisions of federal firearms statutes.”
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Sen. Feinstein, whose bump-stock bill went nowhere in Congress last fall, noted this in a statement urging the president to instead support a stronger legislative ban on the devices. “If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years, and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold,” the senator said. “Legislation is the only answer.” But bump-stock legislation still doesn’t look likely to pass in Congress.
Trump has not said that he will support Sen. Feinstein’s bill, something Congress could pass next week if it really wanted to.
Setting aside the ATF’s role in the issue, experts say a ban on bump stocks wouldn’t be very effective in preventing mass shootings. Bump stocks weren’t used in the Parkland shooting last week, and they weren’t used in the church shooting that occurred earlier this year in Sutherland Springs, Texas. “The bump stock is kind of like a distraction off there on the edge of the page,” Vizzard said, noting that the proliferation of handguns and semi-automatic weapons is much more concerning to gun-control advocates.
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So if the ban wouldn’t necessarily be effective at preventing mass shootings—and might not even hold up in court—why would Trump propose it?
“I think Trump was looking at this thinking, ‘Geez, I gotta do something, these people expect me to take some action,’” said Workman. “The bump stocks are the low-hanging fruit.”
So what about Trump’s “comprehensive background checks” immediately qualified by “an emphasis on mental health,” which means that he is not really talking about “comprehensive background checks,” i.e., unregulated person-to-person private sales, gun show sales, do-it-yourself ghost guns sold with no background check or waiting period, etc.
The absolutist gun lobby and their bought and paid for whores in Congress are never going to allow “comprehensive background checks.” Period. If you want “comprehensive background checks,” you are going to have to “vote them out” as the high school students have emphasized in their comments.
So what about Trump’s “emphasis on mental health”? This is pure cynical hypocrisy aimed at people suffering from short-term memory loss. Trump’s one piece of gun-related legislation undid restrictions aimed at mental illness:
[Last year], on February 28, 2017, he signed a bill nixing an [Obama administration] regulation aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of some severely mentally ill people. Read the full bill text here.
It’s critical to note that it’s not at all clear it would have applied to the shooters in Florida nor Las Vegas, and there’s no reason to believe it would have stopped the massacre.
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Here’s the description of the Obama administration rule CNN published last year in a story by Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh:
The regulation, finalized in December under Obama’s tenure, required the Social Security Administration to disclose information quarterly to the national gun background check system about certain people with mental illness.
While the list of eligible mental disorders is long — ranging from anxiety to eating disorders to schizophrenia — those who would have been reported by the agency had to meet two main criteria: a) They were receiving full disability benefits because of a mental illness and couldn’t work and b) they were unable to manage their own benefits, thus needing the help of a third party to do so.
In fairness, the rule Trump rescinded was opposed by both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association.
Current federal law only prohibits a firearm sale or transfer to and purchase or possession by a person who has been adjudicated as a mental defective. This is a small number of individuals. There are many more who may pose a danger to themselves and to society because of a non-adjudicated mental health issue (including our always insecure egomaniacal man-child Twitter-troll-in-chief who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder).
And as CNN points out:
[T]he laws in this country continue to move in the other direction — away from regulation. New York magazine documented the ways in which they believe the Trump administration and Congress have actually tried to make it easier for certain groups to buy guns over the past year. It’s a not insignificant amount.
One of those ways is that in Trump’s budget, on page 719, as HuffPost points out, the White House suggests cutting $12 million from the federal program that helps states maintain the background check system.
The White House budget is unlikely to become law, but it is important as a statement of priorities.
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The priorities are clear that it’s not likely any gun legislation is going to pass the House or the Senate, and it’s unlikely Trump will propose anything new.
What I hear the high school students saying that what they really want is to “bring back the assault weapons ban” of 1994. Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post explains The real reason Congress banned assault weapons in 1994 — and why it worked:
Critics of bans on assault weapons, however, say they do little to save lives. The NRA correctly points out that assault weapons are used only in a tiny fraction of gun crimes. The gun rights group also notes that a federally funded study of the previous assault weapons ban, which was in place from 1994 to 2004, concluded that “the ban’s impact on gun violence is likely to be small at best, and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.” Similar points have been made in arguments against a new ban in publications running the ideological gamut from Breitbart to the New York Times to HuffPost.
But the 1994 assault weapons ban was never intended to be a comprehensive fix for “gun violence” writ large. Its purpose, according to gun violence experts and the lawmakers who wrote the bill, was to reduce the frequency and lethality of mass shootings like the ones in Parkland, Sandy Hook and elsewhere. And on that front, the data shows it had a significant impact.
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The 1994 law included a ban on 18 specific models of assault weapons, as well as a ban on any firearms containing certain military-style features, like a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor or a folding stock. It also banned high-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 bullets. The bill allowed individuals already in possession of such weapons to keep them. It was also set to expire after 10 years’ time.
“The original intent of the assault weapons ban was to reduce both the frequency and lethality of mass shootings.” Klarevas said. “And on that front the data indicate that it worked.”
Klarevas has compiled data on gun massacres involving six or more fatalities for the 50 years before 2016. His numbers show that gun massacres fell significantly during the time the assault weapons ban was in place, and skyrocketed after the ban lapsed in 2004. A separate mass shooting database compiled by Mother Jones magazine shows a similar trend.
Oh, and by the way, assault weapons are not sacred religious idols protected by the Second Amendment as the gun worshipers and gun fetishists would have you believe. No federal appeals court has ever ruled that assault weapons are protected under the Second Amendment. Does the Second Amendment really protect assault weapons? Four courts have said no.
Even Justice Antonin Scalia, who used sophistry and revisionist history in crafting his seminal “gun rights” opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, went out of his way to emphasize that “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” (String citations ommitted from quote).
Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons.” . . .
It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service — M-16 rifles and the like — may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.
So no, assault weapons are not protected by the Second Amendment, even under Justice Scalia’s expansive opinion in Heller. If President Trump and Congress were truly serious about addressing gun violence in our schools, they would be talking about reinstating the assault weapons ban, expanded to include new technology and weapons since its 1994 enactment, to give these high school students what they really want. But this is not going to happen with this Congress.
Instead, Trump is pushing this damn fool idea from the NRA – even more guns in our schools!
As the high school students say, “Vote them out.”
UPDATE: in later comments on Thursday, Trump Suggests Teachers Get a ‘Bit of a Bonus’ to Carry Guns:
“You give them a little bit of a bonus, so practically for free, you have now made the school into a hardened target,” Mr. Trump said. The president estimated that 10 percent to 40 percent of school employees would be qualified to handle a weapon — he offered no data for the claim — and said he would devote federal money to training them.
Trump was just spitballing ideas, federal aid for training and supplying teachers to be armed police officers is not coming. Philip Bump at the Washington Post ran some numbers. The economics of arming America’s schools:
Data from the Department of Education indicates there are an estimated 3.1 million public school and 400,000 private-school teachers in the United States. In total, there are about 3.6 million teachers.
One-fifth of that total is 718,000 — a bit fewer than the number of people in the Army and the Navy combined as of last December. We would essentially be adding 50 percent to the size of the military by mandating that nearly three-quarters of a million people be trained and prepared to take up arms to defend civilians.
The first cost that needs to be considered is training. What sort of training would be required isn’t clear. Do we want to simply teach the teachers how to target an individual and fire a weapon? Or do we want something more expansive?
Let’s say we want the bare minimum, just enough to pass the safety requirement for gun ownership. In Maryland, there’s a company that will charge you $100 for that training. The cost, then, would be about $71.8 million for all of our teachers.
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[M]ore robust training means that the cost for our 718,000 teachers spikes to $718 million. There would almost certainly be some efficiencies of scale that would come into play here — systems would be developed to train teachers quickly and at less cost — but the figure would still likely run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Assuming that this particular school supply is covered by districts, we need to account for the cost of the firearms, as well.
Let’s consider the Glock G17, which the manufacturer touts as the world’s most popular pistol. It runs $500 apiece, meaning that our price tag for arming our teachers just went up by $359 million. Maybe Glock, too, would give the Department of Education a discount, perhaps cutting the price in half. That changes the total to $180 million.
Our grand total? If we assume the cheapest training and the discounted Glock, we’re at $251 million to arm 718,000 teachers. If we instead assume the full-price, more expansive training and the full-price firearm, the tab creeps past $1 billion.