The White House unveiled a new plan to prevent school shootings that backs off President Donald Trump's support for increasing the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons to 21. Instead, a new federal commission on school safety will examine the age issue as part of a package the White House announced Sunday in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month that left 17 dead. The administration also pledged to help states pay for firearms training for teachers and reiterated its call to improve the background check and mental health systems.
In a call with reporters Sunday evening, administration officials described the plan as a fulfillment of Trump's call for action in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
"Today we are announcing meaningful actions, steps that can be taken right away to help protect students," said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who will chair the commission.
DeVos said that "far too often, the focus" after such tragedies "has been only on the most contentious fights, the things that have divided people and sent them into their entrenched corners." She described the plan as "pragmatic."
The plan was immediately panned by gun control advocates, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Americans expecting real leadership to prevent gun violence will be disappointed and troubled by President Trump's dangerous retreat from his promise," said Avery Gardiner, the group's co-president.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York described it as "tiny baby steps designed not to upset the NRA, when the gun violence epidemic in this country demands that giant steps be taken."
Trump was deeply moved by the February shooting and convened a series of listening sessions in the weeks after the massacre. In televised meetings with lawmakers, survivors of recent school shootings and the families of victims, Trump made a strong case for arming teachers, but also increasing the age for purchasing long guns.
"I mean, so they buy a revolver — a handgun — they buy at the age of 21. And yet, these other weapons that we talk about ... they're allowed to buy them at 18. So how does that make sense?" he told school officials last month. "We're going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18."
But Trump has also spoken repeatedly in recent weeks with the heads of the powerful National Rifle Association, which considers increasing the age of purchase to be an assault on the Second Amendment. The NRA on Friday sued Florida over a new gun law signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott that bans the purchase of firearms by anyone under the age of 21.
Instead, the issue will be one of a list of topics to be studied by the DeVos commission, which will then provide recommendations to the president. Administration officials said they had not set a deadline for the commission's recommendations, but expected they'd made in under a year.
During the meetings, Trump also advocated arming certain teachers and school staffers, arguing that gun-free schools are "like an invitation for these very sick people" to commit murder.
As part plan, the White House has directed the Justice Department to help states partner with local law enforcement to provide "rigorous firearms training to specifically qualified volunteer school personnel," said Andrew Bremberg, director of the president's Domestic Policy Council. The White House did not immediately say how much money would be made available.
Trump also called on states to pass temporary, court-issued Risk Protection Orders, which allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from individuals who pose risks to themselves and others, and temporarily prevent them from buying firearms. And he called for the reform and expansion of mental health programs, as well as a full audit and review of the FBI tip line. The bureau has been criticized for not following up on warnings about the suspect in the Parkland school shooting.
The White House is also calling on Congress to two pieces of legislation. One would improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check system by penalizing federal agencies that don't properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences. The other would create a federal grant program to train students, teachers and school officials how to identify signs of potential violence and intervene early.