Governors divided on path forward on school safety

Different governors have taken varied tactics on how to combat gun violence.

ByABC News
February 26, 2018, 7:45 PM

— -- As the nation’s governors gathered in Washington this weekend for their annual meeting, their conversations on the sidelines and even during a high profile meeting with President Donald Trump on Monday showed that they are as deeply conflicted as federal lawmakers on what to do about gun violence and safety in schools.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, one of two Democratic governors to speak during the session, confronted Trump during Monday’s meeting saying he disagreed with the president’s proposal to arm teachers.

“I have listened to the first-grade teachers, who don't want to be pistol-packing first-grade teachers. I have listened to law enforcement, who have said they don't want to have to train teachers as law enforcement agencies, which takes about six months,” Inslee said.

"So I just suggest we need a little less tweeting, a little more listening, and let's just take that off the table and move forward."

President Donald Trump looks on as Washington State Governor Jay Inslee (R) engages him during a discussion about school shootings with state governors from around the country at the White House, Feb. 26, 2018.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Inslee, who has been considered a potential 2020 presidential candidate since he won reelection two years ago, has strongly supported an effort in his state to ban bump stocks. The Washington state House passed a measure last week to do so and it’s expected to pass in the state Senate.

"Whatever percentage it is, speaking as a grandfather, speaking as a governor of the state of Washington, I have listened to the people who would be affected by that. I have listened to the biology teachers and they don't want to do that," said Inslee, a Democrat reelected by nearly nine percentage points in 2016. "I have listened to the first-grade teachers who don't want to be pistol-packing first-grade teachers. I have listened to law enforcement who have said they don't want to have to train teachers as law enforcement agencies, which takes about six months."

The comment comes as a bill banning bump stocks is making its way to Inslee’s desk in Washington State, after the state Senate and House passed a bill to make Washington the fourth state to ban the device that increases the shooting speed of semi-automatic weapons, making them fire at automatic speed.

“Pleased to see #waleg pass the ban on bump stocks,” Inslee tweeted minutes after the House passed the bill Friday afternoon. “It’s a small, common sense step to further prevent gun violence in our state, but we have a lot more to do.”

He's not the only governor to take a vocal stand.

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida where 17 students died and 14 were injured in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, has offered several specific proposals – raising the age to purchase a gun to 21, banning the sale of bump stocks, passing a "red flag law" to let families go to court to take away guns from mentally ill, putting $450 million worth of law enforcement support in every school, and proposing $50 million for mental health issues.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee speaks during the 2018 White House business session with governors in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 26, 2018.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Scott told WPLG, an ABC News affiliate in Florida, he does not agree with the president’s proposal to arm teachers.

"I believe we ought to make sure we have law enforcement presence, we make sure they're trained," he said. "I want to make sure that all our budgets go through our sheriff's departments to make sure that they know how the money is going to be spent, because they're responsible for our law enforcement."

Other Republican governors at the National Governors Association meeting agreed with Scott that the president’s proposal to arm teachers was not a good idea.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said he didn’t want teachers armed. “I want teachers teaching and I want there to be a resource officer.”

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican who is the head of the NGA, said that “at first blush, I don't think that's a very good idea.”

He added that “I'm a father of a daughter who's studying to be a teacher. It wouldn't be something I would want for my daughter.”

The White House is sticking by the president’s idea.

“Look, we're not advocating for the arming of every single teacher in the school. There are teachers and other school personnel who have experience, preexisting training, and the desire to be part of something like this,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said during the press briefing on Monday.

“We're still listening and making and determining the best steps forward. But we think that hardening our schools and protecting our students with trained personnel is a viable path and one that we're very much looking at.”

President Donald Trump returns to the lectern as Florida Governor Rick Scott returns to his seat after addressing the 2018 White House business session with governors in the State dining Room of the White House, Feb. 26, 2018.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Trump also has proposed to ban bump stocks along with raising the age to buy guns to 21 and strengthening background checks.

Other lawmakers, particularly those from rural Western states, disagreed with adding restrictions to gun owners.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said if teachers wanted guns, that was up to them.

“You know if they want to be a concealed weapon holder, I have no problem with that,” he said at the NGA meeting. “But that's not their jobs, they're there to teach leave it to the law enforcement you have to be trained for that activity and it has to be in schools.”

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead told ABC News his pro-gun state would not support raising the purchase age to 21.

“For me, I think about our service men and women who are in the military and not only need to be are required to use firearms. We’re a firearms state. I recall back my own personal experience where we had a shooting range at the bottom of our high school so I’m not sure that’s an effective way to address the situation,” he said. “So that’s now a way I would go in Wyoming.”

But whatever is done, most governors agree it is time to do something.

“When the kids lead us you know it's past time,” said Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat. “It's time to look at this. And when my kids look at me and ask "mom what have you done about this?" I can look at them and say I've done everything I can.

Still, some governors avoided publicly talking about topic during the conference.

Govs. Scott Walker, R-Wisc., Gov. Matt Bevin, R-Ky., and Gov. Rick Snyder, R-Mich., refused to answer any questions on guns when asked by the media on Saturday.

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