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Trump renews call to arm educators in wake of school shooting

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office Feb. 14, 2018, in Washington. Credit: AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday renewed his call to allow armed educators in schools in response to last week’s deadly shooting at a South Florida high school, and suggested gun-toting teachers be eligible for bonuses.

In a series of Thursday morning tweets, and during a roundtable discussion on school shootings at the White House hours later, Trump offered several proposals to curb the nation’s rising number of mass shootings. The president said he supports raising the age requirement to purchase guns to 21 — a proposal opposed by the National Rifle Association — and called for “hardening” the perimeter of schools to prevent shooters from entering with a gun. Trump also said he planned on pushing for “comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health.”

“I want my schools protected, like I want my banks protected,” Trump said in his second session on school safety in two days at the White House.

At the meeting, attended by the mayor of Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and teachers were shot to death on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Trump defended his recommendation to arm America’s schoolteachers. Trump’s suggestion, made a day earlier at a listening session with students from Douglas High School and others affected by past school shootings, was widely criticized by teachers and some lawmakers, who argued educators already face enough pressure and would be outmatched by unruly shooters.

“I don’t want teachers to have guns. I want certain highly adept people — people that understand weaponry, guns,” Trump said, adding that if prospective shooters knew there “are people in the building with guns, you won’t have — in my opinion — you won’t have these shootings.”

The president said teachers trained to hold a gun permit and carry a gun should receive “a little bit of a bonus,” and estimated that between 10 percent and 40 percent of educators would likely be willing gun-permit holders. He later said he would support providing federal funding to train teachers.

Asked how the Trump administration planned on paying for the bonuses — whether through federal funding or by requiring states and school districts to pick up the tab — White House deputy spokesman Raj Shah said the proposal “hasn’t been fleshed out.”

The president’s support for firearms at schools was denounced by the country’s two largest teachers unions. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew in a statement said, “Teachers should be marking papers, not being trained in marksmanship.” National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said, “Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms.”

At Thursday’s meeting, Trump expressed concern over the active shooter drills that schools across the country practice, calling the drills “a very negative thing,” that could scare students. He noted that he would not want to tell his own son Barron, 11, “you’re going to participate in an active shooter drill.”

“I don’t like it. I’d much rather have a hardened school,” Trump said.

While the NRA has previously embraced the idea of arming schoolteachers, the group also has pushed back against Trump’s call to raise the age requirement for gun purchases. The president told reporters on Thursday he did not foresee a battle with the powerful gun lobbying group.

“I don’t think I’ll be going up against them. I really think the NRA wants to do what’s right. I mean, they’re very close to me, I’m very close to them . . . They love this country. They’re patriots. The NRA wants to do the right thing. I’ve spoken to them often in the last two days, and they want to do the right thing. They’re going to do the right thing, I have no doubt in my mind.”

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