In an almost unprecedented show of presidential conduct, President Donald Trump invited student-activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the Feb. 14 school shooting that left 17 students dead, as well as family members and survivors of other mass shootings, to the White House for a listening session regarding the attack and the gun violence epidemic plaguing America.
The listening session followed a week of confrontation via Twitter, where survivors of Wednesday’s shooting lambasted the president for his lack of initiative and empathy in the face of the tragedy. It also followed a week of conservative kick-back against the very idea of students’ capacity to protest for political change, culminating in wild allegations that these students were “crisis actors” or that liberals are brainwashing them.
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asked those in attendance for feedback on preventing future school shootings and increasing safety for students nationwide. Over the course of the almost 90-minute long session, survivors put forth proposals for improving or increasing security at schools, addressing mental health in the school system, raising the age to purchase rifles and strengthening background checks needed to obtain a firearm. Emotional stories implored Trump to consider the fact that teenagers are allowed to buy a gun before they can legally buy beer or that there are more security precautions to board an airplane than to enter a school full of relatively unprotected students.
Trump seemed to support some of the proposals, especially the call for more stringent background checks, as he had tweeted out support for this plan Tuesday night. While Trump’s tweets rarely result in real government action, his initial support for a policy that could generate bipartisan support for stricter gun control is promising.
But bipartisan background check legislation exists and has been stalled in the Senate since the FIX Nics Act was proposed in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sutherland Springs, Texas last year. This bill would strengthen already existing laws and give states incentives to report crimes to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. In other words, Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress has had ample time and bipartisan support to pass legislation like the FIX Nics Act but has chosen not to. So promises made to acquiesce a grieving nation are hard to view as anything but empty.
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Trump also put forth a solution of his own — arming teachers, a plan the National Rifle Association supports. Trump argued gun-free zones like schools are an easy target for “maniacs” who see these zones as a signal to “go in and attack because bullets aren’t coming back at us.” Teachers and other school personnel could undergo additional training to learn how to use firearms so that, in the event of a school shooter entering the building, teachers would be able to fight back and theoretically end the attack quickly. Teachers with permits for a concealed carry weapon would receive a financial bonus, an apparent incentive to risk their lives for those of their students.
Trump is not in favor of active shooter drills, precautionary measures many schools engage in similar to those for hurricanes and fire drills, to simulate the procedures teachers and students are expected to follow in the event of an active shooter entering the building. Trump believes these drills are “crazy” and “very hard on children” and would much rather have a school swarming with armed teachers and security guards.
My parents are both in education — my mom has taught third grade for 24 years and my dad is a business administrator. Both are in school buildings every day. Thankfully, neither has been in a situation where they believed an active shooter had entered their building, but both are very aware of the possibility of something along those lines happening.
My mom loves her students and she gets postcards and emails from them on the weekends. They give her holiday presents and come back to visit her once they graduate from third grade. But just because she loves her students doesn’t mean she should have to carry a gun to protect them. Just because she loves her students doesn’t mean she should ever be faced with the decision to put her own life on the line to save one of theirs.
The repeated Republican narrative that the only way to prevent school shootings is to arm teachers and use more guns to fight gun violence is ignorant, dangerous and entirely unsubstantial. An increase in gun accessibility and gun ownership has been shown to result in an increase in gun violence and gun homicide rates. Moreover, the United States is estimated to already have 88.8 guns per 100 people, averaging out to more than one gun per American adult.
Therefore, arming even more people with deadly weapons in an attempt to dissuade others from using their own deadly weapons is illogical and ineffective. Schools should not have to be transformed into heavily armed zones to keep students safe. More guns are not going to solve this country’s gun violence problem now or ever.
What will solve the gun violence problem and keep this country’s children safe is stricter gun control. Harsher background checks, less access to firearms, an increased age limit to purchase a gun and banning the sale of automatic and semi-automatic weapons — these are tangible measures that will decrease the amount of weapons in society and consequently help decrease the amount of gun violence.
There is no reason why any American needs an AR-15 sitting around their house. There is no reason why any American needs eight guns in a cabinet in their basement. Guns are dangerous — they kill people. Guns do not need to be such a prevalent part of our society just because there’s an outdated amendment that allows them to be.
America has known since Columbine that something needs to give. Students and educators should not wake up every morning and go to school wondering if they’re safe, wondering if one of their fellow students is going to show up with a gun tucked in the back of their pants. The Trump administration seems headed in the wrong direction, fighting fire with more fire, guns with more guns and going directly against the expressed wishes of survivors of mass shootings.
Students who just witnessed their classmates’ murder should not be responsible to tell the president and Congress to do their job correctly and protect future children. They should not have to organize protests and rallies to enact policy changes that are long overdue because gun control could’ve and should’ve been made harsher years ago.
Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.