So far this calendar year, the nation has seen 15 school shootings in which at least one person was killed. Overall, 32 people have died, including 10 people in May at Santa Fe High School near Houston, and 17 people in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., according to a running tally kept by Education Week.
Against the greater backdrop of American gun violence, however — 5,627 non-suicide firearm deaths last year and 9,395 so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive — the risk of gun-wielders attacking schools is low. Yet some states, driven by the National Rifle Association mentality that a fully armed America is a safer America (it’s not), have passed laws allowing teachers and staffs at schools to carry or have access to firearms.
And now Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reportedly contemplating using federal education aid to pay for those guns. Specifically, the plan under consideration would exploit a loophole in a 2015 education reform law to let local districts buy guns using federal grant money earmarked for academic enrichment and student services.
That’s a foolish and dangerous idea for protecting students against shooters in their classrooms. Police experts warn that adding more guns to a chaotic and violent scene would increase danger because arriving police would have no idea whether an armed person they encounter is a bad guy with a gun or a good guidance counselor with a gun.
According to the reports, some Education Department officials think that because the law creating Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants does not specifically say those dollars can’t be used to buy firearms (unlike some other education grant laws), then local authorities should be free to use that money to buy guns for staffers.
How many times has President Donald Trump decried loopholes? And now his Education Department thinks it has found one large enough to shove a case of semiautomatic handguns through? And how exactly does buying guns meet the program’s objective of helping provide a well-rounded education and improve learning conditions and digital literacy in schools?
It’s possible that the internal discussions will go nowhere — policymakers float all sorts of ideas that never come to fruition, often because of cost, politics or legal issues. In this instance, it’s unclear whether the administration has indeed found a legal way to let school districts buy guns with federal tax dollars, but to do so would clearly flout the spirit of the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act and reverse long-standing federal policy.
Of course, this current Congress isn’t likely to reaffirm the intent it expressed a mere three years ago, given the inordinate sway the NRA holds over the body. But the public should not stand for a program that, rather than protecting students, may well endanger them.