Critics call reported school gun plan ‘absurd,’ misuse of federal funds

Philadephia teacher Patricia Fleetwood joined hundreds of thousands in Washington in March at a rally to demand gun-control measures in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Philip Athey/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – A reported plan to let local schools use federal funds to buy guns and gun training sparked an immediate backlash from Arizona advocates and educators, who called the idea “absurd – and dangerous.”

The Department of Education said in a statement Thursday that it would not comment on “hypothetical scenarios,” after news reports that Secretary Betsy DeVos was considering a plan to let states use Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants to arm and train educators.

But the lack of a concrete proposal did not stop activists and politicians from lighting up social media with attacks on the notion.

Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the victim of a mass shooting who has since become an advocate for gun safety, tweeted that the idea of letting teachers “walk around with guns in order to make kids feel safe is absurd – and dangerous.”

“Teachers are not bodyguards,” she said in a series of tweets. “Arming teachers is not a solution. It recklessly puts American children in even more danger.”

But Valley Gun Group organizer Jayson Hoffer called the idea of having armed educators and officials on school campuses “fantastic” – as long as they understand the responsibility they’re taking on.

“The people who have a gun, they have to realize that they may have to kill someone if a bad guy comes on campus,” Hoffer said. “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The reports follow months of meetings by a school-safety commission, appointed by President Donald Trump and chaired by DeVos, in the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The commission was directed to study everything from best practices for improving school security to the culture of violence that could be leading to school shootings and make recommendations.

The New York Times first reported Thursday that the Education Department was eyeing Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants to arm and train educators, noting that the fund is one of the few that do not prohibit the purchase of firearms.

The Education Department website says that grant program is meant to “provide all students with access to a well-rounded education … improve school conditions for student learning” and “improve the use of technology in order to improve the academic achievement and digital literacy for all students.”

A department spokeswoman would not confirm or deny the reports Thursday.

“The Department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety,” said spokeswoman Liz Hill in a prepared statement released by her office. “The Secretary nor the Department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”

But Andrew Patrick of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said in a statement Thursday that the school-safety commission was a sham that “refused to discuss the dangers of guns” and he said the reported plan “will make our schools less safe.”

“Like most of the ideas that come from Betsy Devos, the prospect of using federal dollars to arm school teachers is foolish and dangerous,” Patrick’s statement said. He went on to say that the only supporters of the idea are “the gun lobby and their allies in the Trump administration.”

Many critics were like former Phoenix mayor and current congressional candidate Greg Stanton who tweeted that “teachers need more school supplies, not guns.”

Mark Joraanstad, executive director of Arizona School Administrators, called the idea of using Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants to arm teachers a “complete misdirection” of the funding.

“It would introduce a considerable amount of danger into the classroom,” Joraanstad said. “Most of our teachers would not be trained in proper firearm use, which would cause a further element of danger in an already dangerous situation.”

Hoffer said that safe zones at schools are not the answer.

“What is safe about a school? There is no such thing as a safe zone, unless you are paying massive amounts of security,” he said. “They can’t continue to keep going on with safe zones because there’s no such thing.”

Charles Heller of the Arizona Citizens Defense League said he likes the idea of guns in schools – but he thinks getting the government involved is the wrong way to do it.

“There is no such thing as any regulation to make students safer,” he said. “You don’t need the federal government to make Arizona schools safe.”

Heller said that if teachers – or anyone, for that matter – want a gun, they should be able to make that choice. But not because the government made them.

“The last thing we want is the government arming people,” he said. “We want people to choose it for themselves.”

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