White House ready to endorse plan for improving school safety

March 12, 2018, 12:30 AM

President Donald Trump has called for bold action to improve school safety after last month's Parkland shooting, but a set of proposals the White House formally plans to endorse on Monday leaves most authority for reform up to the states and for consideration by a new federal commission led by Secretary of Education Betsy Devos.

The only pieces of legislation Trump is set to endorse formally are two bills he's previously backed: The FIX NICS Bill, which calls for making improvements to the nation's background check system, and the STOP School Violence Act, which would provide grants to states in developing anti-school-violence plans. The White House has previously expressed support for both measures.

Additionally, the White House is calling for an audit and review of the FBI tip line, directing the Department of Justice to partner with willing states to train qualified school personnel and calling for a review of expanding mental-health programs and patient-privacy laws.

The White House is also calling on states to pass risk-protection orders that allow law enforcement to remove firearms from individuals who are a demonstrated threat to themselves or others and temporarily prevent those individuals from buying new firearms.

These proposals will be released with little fanfare on Monday, with no specific White House event planned around the occasion.

While Trump has previously suggested he supports universal background checks on all firearm purchases, a senior official explained that the president is supporting the narrow FIX NICS Bill for now is a matter of practicality.

"The president wants to improve our background check system -- we want to act now, we don't want to wait," a senior administration official said. "We believe that this legislation is important and useful in improving the background check system and can pass virtually immediately if there's not obstruction in Congress."

As for the potential for further action on background checks, the official said "that's something we'll discuss in the commission."

The president had also previously called for raising the minimum age on purchasing firearms to 21 across the board, something the NRA strongly opposes.

PHOTO: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at a news conference following a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, March 7, 2018, in Coral Springs, Fla.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at a news conference following a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, March 7, 2018, in Coral Springs, Fla.

While the president has in recent weeks suggested other politicians have not pushed for changing the minimum age out of fear for the powerful gun lobby, Trump now is similarly backing down. The administration said that's a debate for states and the Devos-led commission.

"Regarding the age, that's obviously a state-based discussion that's going on right now, and that's something that the commission will look at, get information from the states about what they're considering, and what's impactful and useful," a senior official said.

As for the president's call to arm school personnel, the only action the White House is formally expected to endorse Monday is the Justice Department's working with states to help interested localities in arming and training qualified individuals, with no details yet provided on how such programs will be funded.

"The DOJ ... will provide assistance to states to help them partner with state and local law enforcement to provide appropriate firearms training, and other training with appropriate school personnel," a senior official said. "Those are capable of happening today."

Devos insisted on a call with reporters that the time for talk and no action is over.

"We've had to talk about this topic way too much over the years," she said. "And there's been a lot of talk in the past but very little action. I have to give credits to the students in their courage and consistent call for action."

But the commission she will chair is operating without a deadline, even as a senior administration official insists it will move with "deliberate speed" and "impatience" from its leader to offer real solutions.

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