Commentary: If Trump Really Wants to Protect Children, Here’s What He Needs to Do
It’s an all-too familiar cycle: a mass shooting, calls for thoughts and prayers, hostility from the gun lobby to new public safety measures, and congressional inaction. After the faces of the victims fade from the news cycle, the same process inadvertently repeats itself a few months—if not days or weeks—later. The predictable chorus of calls for more background checks, assault weapons bans, and more school security guards swells, and inaction persists.
This time is different. The voices of the students of Parkland, Florida, who hid in closets and under desks while watching the massacre of classmates and teachers, are not fading from the news cycle. They are galvanizing it. Scrambling for cover are the congressional Republicans and President Trump, who remain firmly in the pockets of the National Rifle Association’s lobbyists. Straight from their talking points, Trump and his congressional allies are parroting the long-maligned point that more guns will lead to more safety. Central to this plan is arming America’s educators.
As a former school board member and a member of Congress serving on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, I am appalled—yet not surprised—that the White House would propose an outrageous plan that does little to protect our students and ignores solutions that help deter mass shootings in our schools. Everyone hears the stories of countless teachers who are understaffed, underpaid, and overworked. We expect them to do the impossible with limited resources, and now, Trump wants them to become armed and willing to lay down their lives for our children. While many teachers would and have made this sacrifice, who are we to order them to do this? Members of Congress have sworn an oath to protect this country, and it is unconscionable for congressional Republicans to pass this duty off to educators because of their own cowardly refusal to take a simple vote.
While Trump and the gun lobby want us to believe that ‘good guys with guns’ are the only things that stop ‘bad guys with guns,’ federal data suggests otherwise. According to an FBI review of active shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013, only one in 160 incidents ended when an armed civilian successfully intervened. Despite the bystander theory that Trump and NRA lobbyists push, the reality is simple: Teachers and everyday civilians simply are not trained to kill. In a shooting where every second matters, multiple armed individuals—however well intentioned—will result in more victims and more bloodshed.
More importantly, militarizing our schools should not be the answer to addressing public safety concerns. Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, has called for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on upgrading schools with security measures that sound like prison recommendations. Should we spend our time and money turning schools into cell units? Should we force our teachers to take School Combat 101 as a condition for teacher certification? Absolutely not. We should focus instead on effective public safety measures that protect students without sacrificing positive learning environments.
If Trump truly cared about the children in our schools, their education, and their safety, his actions would not show evidence to the contrary. His budget makes deep cuts to programs that provide school officials with the necessary resources to prevent school shootings, identify troubled students, and get them the help they need. While Trump is ready to put a gun in the hand of our teachers, he cuts important violence prevention programs and mental health services for our schools. While he and his NRA lobbyists attempt to turn our teachers into a militia, he restricts funding for public health research on gun violence.
Congress has ignored its duty to protect the American people for too long, yet the survivors of Parkland, Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Charleston, and more are calling on us to speak bravely and act boldly. As a member of Congress, I am ready to act along with my colleagues to protect the American people. Common-sense public safety legislation that closes loopholes, provides universal background checks, bans assault weapons and extended clips, and lifts the ban on public health research is necessary to accomplishing this task. Instead of thoughts and prayers, let’s take action to protect our children. Instead of arming teachers with guns, let’s arm them with the resources they need to effectively serve the students of their schools without having to worry that the next teenager armed with an AR-15 is lurking around the corner.
Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva represents the third congressional district in Arizona. He is currently the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee and Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.