POLITICS
12/03/2018 12:53 PM AEDT | Updated 13/03/2018 7:35 AM AEDT

Trump Announces Support For Arming Teachers, Backpedals On Gun Purchase Age

So much for not being afraid of the NRA.

The White House on Sunday announced support for firearms training for some teachers to protect schools, and has backed off an earlier call by President Donald Trump to raise the age individuals can purchase assault-style weapons from 18 to 21.

The series of proposals generally fall in line with what the National Rifle Association supports in the wake of the massacre last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people.

Trump reiterated his proposals in a series of tweets Monday morning. He defended his plan to allow “highly trained expert teachers” in schools, and said “armed guards [are] OK” and a “deterrent!”

He punted the issue of raising the minimum gun purchase age to 21 to state lawmakers, claiming there is “not much political support (to put it mildly).” The NRA opposes raising the purchase age.

The nation’s largest teachers lobby, the National Education Association, is adamantly opposed to Trump and the NRA’s controversial initiative to arm teachers. An armed teacher in Georgia last month fired his handgun after he barricaded himself in a high school classroom, where he was eventually arrested by police. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre touted arming teachers in a speech last month to the Conservative Political Action Conference. The White House plan would involve funding to provide weapons training for teachers.

Trump’s apparent reversal from proposing to raise the age young people can buy military assault-style weapons like the AR-15 that was used in the Parkland school shooting is a startling turnaround. It comes just weeks after he taunted legislators, saying that they were “afraid of the NRA,” while he was not. Trump specifically asked Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) if the senator had left raising the minimum age for gun purchases out of his bill strengthening background checks because senators “are afraid of the NRA.” 

Last month, Trump said in a meeting with legislators: “Now, this is not a popular thing to say, in terms of the NRA. But I’m saying it anyway. You can’t buy [a handgun until] until you’re 21. But you can buy the kind of weapon used in the school shooting at 18. I think it’s something you have to think about.”

Asked by reporters to explain the reversal on Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders struggled to say if there was anything in Trump’s plan that the NRA opposes. She only suggested that changing the minimum age “will be reviewed,” and later insisted that “the president still supports this.”

On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R)— a longtime NRA member — signed a bill into law raising the minimum age for all gun purchase from 18 to 21. But the NRA almost immediately sued to block the law and protect the “constitutional rights” of would-be gun buyers under the age of 21. The state’s controversial “guardian program” — opposed by the Florida Education Association — will allow some school employees and teachers to carry handguns with law enforcement training if a school district agrees to participate in the program.

The White House guns plan also includes support for a bill, known as the “Fix NICS” measure, designed to improve background checks for gun purchases. But it does not contain universal background checks, which would be far more effective. 

“Fix NICS” is a bill sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to bolster the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) by improving the flow of information into it from states and various federal agencies. But the measure is far less ambitious than universal background checks, which would include private sales, such as those that often occur at gun shows.

The White House announced that the president is establishing a federal commission on school safety, to be chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, that will explore possible solutions to school shootings. It may consider the age young people can purchase guns, the Washington Post reported Sunday. But nothing in the current White House proposals address raising the minimum age for buyers.

DeVos called the proposals a “pragmatic plan” to increase school safety, the Post reported.

Several Democrats slammed the proposals. “This plan is weak on security and an insult to the victims of gun violence,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said in a statement. “When it comes to keeping our families safe, it’s clear that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are all talk and no action.”

This article has been updated to include Trump’s tweets and comments from Sanders.

Marina Fang contributed reporting.