President Trump Continues To Raise Ideas On How To Protect Against School Shootings

Feb 22, 2018
Originally published on February 23, 2018 7:05 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump has been raising ideas to protect against school shootings this week. His ideas range from age restrictions on who can purchase rifles to improving the background check system to arming school teachers and coaches to deter would-be shooters. The president expanded on that proposal today in a meeting with local officials.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: One of the fake news networks, CNN, last night was saying I want teachers to have guns. I don't want teachers to have guns. I want certain highly adept people, people that understand weaponry, guns if they're - if they really have that aptitude because not everybody has an aptitude for a gun. But if they have the aptitude, I think a concealed permit for having teachers and letting people know that there are people in the building with a gun, you won't have - in my opinion, you won't have these shootings because these people are cowards.

KELLY: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here with more on how the president is approaching these solutions. Hey there.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.

KELLY: The president - it's interesting. He's talking about a lot of different things, some of which will be opposed by gun control advocates and many Democrats, some of which will be opposed by the NRA and many Republicans. What do we know about what's guiding the president's thinking?

KEITH: The White House says that he's actually still in listening mode. But at times he talks like he's made up his mind and he wants things to happen, like this morning. He was tweeting. He said, quote, "I will be strongly pushing comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health. Raise the age to 21 and end the sales of bump stocks," exclamation point. But let's look at the background checks. How he defines comprehensive background checks could mean - it could be a bunch of different things. And it could either be exactly what gun control advocates are asking for or sort of a more limited improvement of the existing system, which is what the NRA is OK with. So at the moment the president is sounding very determined, but the ideas truly aren't fully formed yet.

KELLY: How fully formed is this idea of having school personnel armed to deter a shooter? Do we know exactly how the president has thought that one through?

KEITH: He has been talking about it a lot. He keeps bringing it up - brought it up yesterday, brought it up again today. He sees it as a deterrent. But he also talks about how with these mass shootings the killing happens very quickly, that there isn't enough time for law enforcement to scramble. So he is saying that he wants teachers and others to have weapons, but he does want them to be highly trained. He says it could be anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of people on campus, adults on campus.

And, you know, he talks in that very same language that the NRA used about hardening schools, that schools shouldn't be a soft target. You know, this is not a new concept, actually, the idea of a good guy with a gun versus a bad guy with a gun. And several states after Sandy Hook - all red states and kind of more like a handful - did pass legislation allowing adults to have guns on campus.

KELLY: Well, that leads to my question, which is, how much power either politically or legally does the president have here? If laws on guns are going to change in this country, that's of course the remit of Congress. So how much can he actually do?

KEITH: It's a good question. He can't do much through executive action. He has to do it through Congress. He did on bump stocks, which is another thing he's talked about. That's the device that goes on a semiautomatic weapon that would make it fire more rapidly, more like a machine gun.

KELLY: Right.

KEITH: He's asking ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to do it through regulatory action. ATF has determined in the past that it can't do it through regulations, that legislation is the only way to do it. At this point, the White House and the president aren't proposing legislation on that.

KELLY: And briefly, Tam, on some of the other issues that are getting a lot of play right now - how this country should look at mental health, background checks - any specific proposals on the table from the president there?

KEITH: No specific proposals yet. He is also talking a lot about the idea of raising the age for purchasing a rifle from 18 to 21. Again, that is something that would require legislation. And although it's getting some traction now, especially in the Florida Statehouse, it's not clear in the light of day in Congress how that would pass.

KELLY: How it's all going to play out. NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

KELLY: White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.