Trump’s plan to combat school shootings includes federal commission, review of FBI tip line

President Trump is calling on Congress to approve legislation aimed at improving the federal system of background checks on gun purchases, and is promoting another bill that would provide grants to help states prevent school violence. (Associated Press/File)

President Trump is creating a federal commission on school safety, ordering a review of the FBI tip line that ignored warnings about the man who is accused of killing 17 people at a Florida high school, and encouraging states to arm more qualified adults so schools are less vulnerable to attacks, administration officials said Sunday night.

The president also is calling on Congress to approve legislation aimed at improving the federal system of background checks on gun purchases, and is promoting another bill that would provide grants to help states prevent school violence.

As part of the long-awaited plan after the massacre in Parkland, Florida, Mr. Trump will further encourage states to pass “risk protection” orders, temporary court orders that allow police to remove guns from people who are deemed threats to themselves but have raised concerns about due process rights.

Mr. Trump still supports raising the age limit for purchasing long guns from 18 to 21, but it’s not part of his proposal. Officials said the commission will examine the question.

Florida, which approved an age limit increase on gun purchases as part of the school safety measure it passed last week, is being sued by the National Rifle Association over the move.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who outlined the president’s proposals for reporters, will chair the federal commission to study school violence and come up with other policy recommendations. The panel, which will work with specialists across the federal government plus state and local leaders, has no deadline, but officials said they expect a report well within a year.

Mrs. DeVos said the plan would include “steps that can be taken right away to help protect students.”

“Far too often, the focus has been only on the most contentious fights, the things that have divided people and sent them into their entrenched corners,” she said. “The plan that we’re going to advance and talk about is a pragmatic plan to dramatically increase school safety.”

One of the surprises in the president’s plan was his ordering of the review of the FBI tip line, an investigation that will apparently be separate from a probe that the FBI is conducting.

In early January, a woman close to the man accused in the school shooting called the tip line to describe a young man with an arsenal of guns who was “going to explode.” She told the FBI that she feared he would be “getting into a school and just shooting the place up.”

The FBI admitted that it failed to act on the tip about 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. Instead of passing along the tip to the appropriate field office in Florida, an FBI employee in the bureau’s West Virginia tip line center discussed it with her supervisor and they decided to take no further action.

Further red flags were publicly available on Mr. Cruz’s social media accounts.

Andrew Bremberg, director of the president’s Domestic Policy Council, said, “No stone will be left unturned.”

As expected, the president backed off some other gun control proposals that have failed to pass Congress but for which he has voiced initial support.

Mr. Trump encouraged lawmakers in a meeting on Feb. 28 to adopt a more comprehensive bill on background checks of gun purchases, sponsored by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, and Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, as part of a bold plan to address school shootings. He urged lawmakers at the time, “Don’t be shy.”

But senior administration officials said the White House has made a calculation that a narrower bill on background checks, sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, and Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, has a better chance of becoming law.

Introduced after a man who had been court-martialed from the Air Force killed 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last fall, the measure would encourage agencies and states to record more criminal convictions in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, which is used by the National Instant Check System to flag prohibited purchases of firearms.

The gunman in that case was prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing firearms and ammunition because of a domestic violence conviction, but the Air Force failed to record the court-martial and discharge in the database.

The recommendations were laid out in detail by the White House on Sunday night, nearly a month after the school shooting on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and staff dead and 15 wounded.

Some Democrats panned the administration’s proposals as weak. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., a Pennsylvania Democrat running for re-election, called it “an insult to the victims of gun violence.”

“When it comes to keeping our families safe, it’s clear that President Trump and congressional Republicans are all talk and no action,” Mr. Casey said.

Mr. Trump has held several meetings in the wake of the shootings, including visits with the wounded at a hospital and with victims’ families and survivors at the White House.

“The president is determined to act in response to reforms suggested throughout these listening sessions,” Mr. Bremberg said.

He said Mr. Trump is driven by the belief that “we must act, not just engage in idle talk, and act in ways that are proven to be successful and will keep our children safe.”

Mrs. DeVos said states and localities seeking to protect schools against shooters should consider allowing teachers to carry firearms in the classroom.

Arming teachers “should be an option for states and communities to consider,” Mrs. DeVos told CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes.”

She acknowledged that some educators have neither the interest nor the training to carry firearms, “but for those who are capable, this is one solution that can and should be considered. … Every state and every community is going to address this issue in a different way.”

Nineteen states allow firearms in K-12 schools as long as the owner has permission from school authorities. Another five states permit any concealed-carry holder to bring weapons to schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“There are a lot of states that are addressing these issues in very cohesive and coherent ways,” said Mrs. DeVos.

The administration’s proposal calls for encouraging states to provide firearms training for qualified “volunteers” in schools. Since the shooting in Florida, Mr. Trump has been expressing his belief, shared by the NRA, that gunmen would be deterred by the knowledge that trained people in schools would be carrying firearms.

”If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could end the attack very quickly,” he has said.

Florida’s school safety measure, signed into law Friday by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, allows for the hiring of more school resources officers, security improvements to schools, a waiting period limit on shotgun and rifle purchases, and more police powers to seize weapons from people who are deemed dangerous.

The Florida law also bans the purchase of weapons by anyone younger than 21.

That provision quickly prompted an NRA lawsuit, charging an age discrimination infringement on the right to keep and bear arms. The lawsuit argues that 18-year-olds are legally considered adults.

“The effect of Florida’s age-based ban is to impose a significant unequal, and impermissible burden on the right to keep and bear arms of a class of millions of law-abiding 18-to-20 year-old adult citizens,” says the 13-page complaint filed Friday in federal court in the Northern District of Florida.

The NRA asked the court to enjoin the law from taking effect.

The White House also supports a second bill, STOP School Violence, that would create a federal grant program to train students, teachers and school officials on how to identify signs of potential violence and to intervene early. The House is expected to vote on the measure next week.

“We really need to focus on prevention and identifying risks early on,” Mrs. DeVos said.

Mr. Trump has also vowed to ban the use of bump stock devices that enable guns to fire like automatic weapons. The Department of Justice submitted a rule to the White House on Saturday to ban possession or sale of bump stocks.

The Florida school shooting didn’t involve use of a bump stock, but the massacre in Las Vegas last year did.

“President Trump is absolutely committed to ensuring the safety and security of every American, and he has directed us to propose a regulation addressing bump stocks,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The proposal now goes to the White House Office of Management and Budget for final review and then will be published.


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