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Gun control advocates angered by Trump report on school shooting prevention

The document suggests arming campus staff but not restrictions on firearms

A woman places a poster of shooting victim Meadow Pollack, at one of seventeen crosses, after a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Parkland shooting. AP
A woman places a poster of shooting victim Meadow Pollack, at one of seventeen crosses, after a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Parkland shooting. AP

Gun control advocates have condemned a Trump administration report into the prevention of school shootings, which suggested campuses should consider arming staff and recommended tougher disciplinary measures but did not suggest restricting the availability of firearms.

The report was published this week in response to the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and staff, sparking a national debate over gun control and came as new figures revealed the extent of America’s firearm epidemic.

Analysis of Centres for Disease Control (CDC) mortality data showed almost 40,000 people were killed by guns in 2017, the highest toll recorded by its database going back to 1979.

Into that mix comes Donald Trump's federal commission on school safety report, headed by Betsy DeVos’s Education Department. It suggests almost 100 ways to improve school safety including allowing some school employees to carry weapons and allowing police to confiscate guns from potentially violent students.

But it dismissed the idea of raising the minimum age for gun purchases, which is 18 years of age for a handgun, suggesting that most attacks obtained their firearm illegally.

As a result, the report is a let down for children afraid of coming to school every day, according to Robin Lloyd, director of Government Affairs at Giffords, the advocacy group formed by the former Congresswoman Gabbie Giffords who was shot 10 years ago at a gathering in Tucson, Arizona.

“We don’t need more school personnel roaming hallways with firearms,” she said. “We do need real solutions to stop gun violence.

“It’s time for Secretary DeVos and President Trump to recognise the importance of passing laws proven to make it harder for dangerous people to ever get a gun and cause others harm.”

The commission was set up in the wake of the attack at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, when a 19-year-old former student went on a deadly rampage.

Its young survivors became high-profile advocates for gun control. They demanded an increase in the federal age of gun ownership to 21, universal background checks, barring anyone guilty of domestic violence having access to firearms and banning “bump stocks”, modifications that make assault rifles capable of firing as rapidly as automatic weapons.

While the report fell short of many of their demands they could celebrate one victory. The Trump administration announced on Tuesday it was banning bump stocks.

The move brought the immediate threat of legal action by the Gun Owners of America group. It said the ban would lead to further restrictions on weapons and that bump stocks were not the same as machine guns, which are already banned.

However, the overall tone of proposals avoided the big questions and echoed Mr Trump’s position on gun control.

Speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House with victims of gun violence, Mr Trump also suggested the media should refrain from naming gunmen in what he called a “no-notoriety” rule.

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He also emphasised the point that more armed responders could make a crucial difference.

“It’s critical to have armed personnel available at a moment's notice," he said. “These are people – teachers in many cases – that are the highest trained that you can get. People that are natural to firearms... This is critical to the hardening of our schools against attack.”

One of the most contentious proposals is rolling back Barack Obama era guidance that asks schools not to suspend, expel or report students to police except in the most serious cases. That came in for criticism after the Parkland shooting, when conservatives argued that teachers were being discouraged from raising warning flags.

But Patty Murray, the most senior Democrat on the Senate committee overseeing education, said: “Despite overwhelming evidence and basic common sense, Secretary DeVos is trying to make the case that it's not weapons of war in schools that make students unsafe, but rather the true danger is schools’ attempts to fight racism and inappropriate discipline.”

The damage from America’s vast arsenal of firearms is laid bare in new numbers that revealed a total of 39,773 gun deaths in 2017. That’s an increase of 1,000 from the year before and the highest on record at the CDC, which began collecting data 50 years ago.

Adjusting for population size, that gives a figure of 12 deaths for every 100,000 people, up from 11.8 the year before. That number is the highest since the mid 1990s.

Most of the deaths – about 60 per cent – were suicides with another 37 per cent related to murders, according to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, which analysed the numbers.

“In 2017, nearly 109 people died every single day from gun violence,” said Adelyn Allchin, the group’s director of public health research.

“Gun violence is a public health epidemic that requires a public health solution, which is why we must immediately enact and implement evidence-based interventions – like permit-to-purchase policies and extreme risk laws.”

Updated: December 19, 2018 09:58 PM

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