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  • President Donald Trump runs with conservative media’s horrible idea of arming teachers

    Even the NRA used to have a “zero tolerance” position against arming teachers

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    President Donald Trump is pushing a fringe idea to arm school teachers that has been promoted by conservative media and the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

    Trump made the proposal during a February 22 meeting at the White House, suggesting that armed teachers could receive a pay bonus. He also defended the idea on Twitter, promising that it would end attacks at schools:

    Trump continued to push armed teachers during his speech at CPAC: 

    According to NBC News, “Gun violence experts, educators, and school safety advocates immediately panned the idea.”

    Trump’s outrageous proposal has its roots in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. After that attack, conservative media figures increasingly began pushing the idea of arming teachers, and the proposal was also backed in a post-Sandy Hook report issued by the NRA. The push to arm teachers has come full circle, with conservative media now celebrating the president’s adoption of their idea.

    There is no evidence that arming teachers will stop school shootings. Even the NRA used to acknowledge this fact. After the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre gave a speech at the gun group’s annual meeting where he said, “We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools, period ... with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel.”

    Even armed individuals with extensive firearms training have failed to stop school shootings. In the case of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, an armed deputy present at the school took a defensive position outside the building where the shooting was taking place and never went inside to confront the gunman, contrary to  department policies. At Columbine, an armed police officer present at the high school attempted to fire on one of the shooters, but was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon. Jeanne Assam, a retired police officer who did actually stop a gun rampage at a Colorado church in 2007, has rejected the notion of arming teachers, telling CNN in 2012 that “a teacher wants to be a teacher. He or she doesn't want to be a police officer” before concluding that the proposal is “ridiculous.”

    Proposals to arm teachers do not appreciate the reality of the highly chaotic scene an active shooter incident creates. According to the Violence Policy Center, research has shown that “trained law enforcement officials have only an average 20 percent hit ratio in armed confrontations, meaning that only 20 percent of shots fired hit the intended target.”

    Some states already allow teachers to carry guns, although it’s unclear whether the educators widely adopt the practice. But when armed teachers make headlines, it is not for stopping school shooters. As HuffPost noted:

    In September 2014 at Idaho State University, a teacher accidentally shot himself in the foot when his concealed handgun discharged. Students in the chemistry class watched.

    Later that month at a Utah elementary school, a teacher carrying a concealed weapon accidentally shot herself in the leg as she used the restroom.

    In 2016, a group of elementary school students in Pennsylvania found a loaded gun in the bathroom after a teacher accidentally left it behind.

    In general, the presence of firearms makes people less safe. Research has demonstrated time and time again that keeping a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide, suicide, and unintentional shootings. The concealed carry of firearms -- which conservative media claim without evidence to be a solution to mass public shootings -- also makes people less safe. Instead of preventing crime, laws allowing permissive gun carry increase violent crime and are particularly associated with aggravated assault.

    In addition to carrying out their teaching responsibilities, teachers, if armed, would be tasked with preventing students from accessing their firearm. As Lily Eskelsen García, president of National Education Association, explained in a statement opposing Trump’s proposal, “Educators need to be focused on teaching our students. We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators.” And as Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, noted, “We don’t want to be, and would never have the expertise needed to be, sharp shooters; no amount of training can prepare an armed teacher to go up against an AR-15.”

  • The NRA’s new talking point about background checks is bullshit

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Rifle Association’s (NRA) leadership has broken its silence following last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Comments made by its leadership at CNN’s February 21 town hall on gun violence and during speeches at CPAC indicate that the NRA is coalescing around a misleading talking point that attacks the national background check system for gun purchases.

    Three different times during a 24 hour period, NRA leadership bemoaned that states are not required to submit disqualifying records into the background check system:

    • At CNN’s town hall, NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch said, “We had three lawmakers on this stage and only one of them hinted at reinforcing the background check system. It is only as good as the records submitted to it. Only one of them even got anywhere close to mentioning that. We have to have more than 38 states submit records.” Loesch also asked Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez, “Do you know that it is not federally required for states to actually report people who are prohibited possessors, crazy people, people who are murderers?”

    • Loesch used the talking point again during her February 22 speech at CPAC, saying, “I want you to all ask yourselves, where are the stories about how only 38 states submit less than 80 percent of criminal convictions to the background checks system. It’s only as good as what’s submitted to it. How many of you knew that? No. Why isn’t [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein [D-CA] calling for that? I have to question whether or not they want this system to fail.”

    • NRA CEO LaPierre hit the same point to attack the press during his speech, saying, “No one gets ratings by telling the truth about how to stop mass killers. So they don’t report that 38 states submit less than 80 percent of their felony convictions to the system, leaving more than 7 million felony convictions in the dark.”

    There’s one major problem with this talking point: The NRA’s actions are the reason states can’t be required to submit disqualifying records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

    During the 1990s, the NRA backed a lawsuit Printz v. United States that sought to block the implementation of NICS, which was created by the 1993 Brady Bill.  

    While the system eventually went into effect, the outcome of Printz damaged its effectiveness, as the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in favor of the NRA’s argument that requiring states to perform background checks for a federal system violated the 10th Amendment.

    The ruling also had implications on whether states can be required to submit disqualifying records into the background check system. As the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence explains, “Federal law cannot require states to make information identifying people ineligible to possess firearms available to the federal or state agencies that perform background checks” because “case law suggests that a federal statute requiring states to disclose records to the FBI would violate the Tenth Amendment” due to the Printz ruling.

    As a result of this state of affairs, all Congress can do is encourage states to submit records using a carrot-and-stick system that provides incentives and disincentives for states to submit records.

    In Loesch’s CPAC comments, she asked “Why isn’t Dianne Feinstein calling for” more records to be put in the system. In fact, Feinstein is the co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) that would further incentivize states to provide records into the system.

    LaPierre revived the NRA’s past claim today at CPAC that the NRA should be credited for the creation of NICS. But the reality is that when the law was being considered as legislation, the group tried to stymie it at every turn, and once it was enacted attempted to sue it out of existence.

  • NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch lied to Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Emma Gonzalez, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had a simple question for National Rifle Association (NRA) national spokesperson Dana Loesch during CNN’s gun violence town hall: “Do you believe that it should be harder to obtain the semi-automatic ... weapons and the modifications for these weapons to make them fully automatic, like bump stocks?”

    Instead of providing the NRA’s well established positions on these questions, Loesch gave a series of dishonest explanations that sought to hide the NRA’s fringe absolutism against gun regulation.

    After some niceties, Loesch purported to answer Gonzalez's question by saying, “I don't believe that this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm, ever. I do not think that he should have gotten his hands on any kind of weapon. That's number one.”

    According to Loesch, “This individual was nuts and I, nor the millions of people that I represent as a part of this organization, that I'm here speaking for, none of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others, getting their hands on a firearm.”

    Loesch was lying.

    The NRA opposes adding prohibiting categories to the gun background check system that could have included the Stoneman Douglas gunman. As the NRA’s website states, “NRA opposes expanding firearm background check systems, because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms.” It also opposes a policy called a “Gun Violence Restraining Order” or a “Red Flag” law that has been widely cited as a policy that could have stopped the gunman from having access to firearms. These laws allow family members and law enforcement to petition courts to temporarily remove people’s access to firearms who are a danger to themselves or others.

    Loesch’s dishonesty didn’t stop with that claim. Moments later, while talking about the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), Loesch said, “It is not federal law for states to report convictions to the NICS system. It's not federally mandated.” Loesch also argued that the states can convict a person, they "can adjudicate the mentally unfit," but "if a state does not report it to the National Crime Information Center, when you run that form, this individual -- this madman passed a background check." (NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre also used this talking point in his February 22 speech at CPAC.)

    What Loesch failed to mention is that states can’t be required to report disqualifying records because of the outcome of a 1997 NRA-backed lawsuit Printz v. United States.

    The lawsuit was the NRA’s attempt to invalidate the entire national background check system in court before it could be implemented. While the system eventually went into effect, the outcome of Printz damaged its effectiveness, as the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in favor of the NRA’s argument that requiring states to perform background checks for a federal system violated the 10th Amendment.

    The ruling also had implications on whether states can be required to submit disqualifying records into the background check system. As the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence explains, “Federal law cannot require states to make information identifying people ineligible to possess firearms available to the federal or state agencies that perform background checks” because “case law suggests that a federal statute requiring states to disclose records to the FBI would violate the Tenth Amendment” due to the Printz ruling.

    So far, none of Loesch’s answers were actually about semi-automatic weapons or bump stocks. Gonzalez then interceded to say, “I think I'm gonna interrupt you real quick and remind you that the question is actually, do you believe it should be harder to obtain these semi-automatic weapons and modifications to make them fully automatic, such as bump stocks?”

    Loesch didn’t mention semi-automatic weapons, but offered some muddled comments about bump stocks and said, “So, that answers your question.” (The organization has a deceitful position on the issue that decreases the chances they will be eventually banned.)

    The NRA had a responsibility to offer straightforward, honest statements about gun policy at CNN’s gun violence town hall, but instead what Loesch offered were lies and spin.

  • Here’s who the National Rifle Association is choosing to represent it at a CNN gun violence town hall

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON & CYDNEY HARGIS

    On February 21, CNN will host a town hall on gun violence set to include a wide spectrum of people affected by the Parkland, FL, school shooting. The National Rifle Association was invited to participate and chose to send its national spokesperson, Dana Loesch, to join "students, parents and community members" at the event, breaking with its decision to not participate in a similar 2016 CNN town hall. The NRA’s decision to send Loesch, who is also a far-right conservative commentator with a long history of inflammatory rhetoric, to represent the organization in a town hall discussion about gun safety and legislation that includes survivors of a mass school shooting, clearly demonstrates the extremist, fringe views the NRA has embraced to advance its cause.