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Betsy DeVos considers letting schools use federal funds to arm teachers

Grant money that is intended to improve school conditions may be funneled to states for gun purchases.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on August 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on August 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering allowing states or districts to use federal grant money to purchase guns and gun training for schools, a move that would reverse years of government precedent against providing funding to arm schools.

The New York Times reported that the Education Department is looking into using the $1 billion Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants for this purpose, as the law does not explicitly prohibit purchasing guns for schools. Although the House in March passed a measure that banned the use of federal funds for guns, the bill died in the Senate.

Schools are currently entitled to use SSAE grant funds for three purposes: promoting a well-rounded education, improving school conditions, and ensuring the effective use of technology. According to the Times, the Education Department believes gun purchases could fall under the category of improving school conditions.

The discussions come months after the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida that resulted in the deaths of 17 people. Since then, activists, including surviving Parkland students, have called on Congress and the Trump administration to take concrete action on gun control. Instead, President Donald Trump has pushed for more guns in schools.

“I want a hardened school,” he said a few days after the shooting, during a meeting with law enforcement officials. “I would like to see true people with great talent at guns, being adept at guns, of which there is only a percentage of people. You can’t hire enough security guards.” (DeVos, for her part, has also said guns may be necessary in schools to protect against grizzly bears.)

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Shortly thereafter, the administration announced the creation of a school safety commission, led in part by DeVos, to study the role of violent video games and entertainment on school shootings. The commission does not, however, look specifically at the role of guns in school shootings, with DeVos telling a Senate panel in June that it is more broadly focused on the “culture of violence.”

Despite the popularity among Republican leadership for the policy of arming schools, research shows that arming teachers or increasing the number of armed guards in schools will not help keep students safe.

As ThinkProgress previously reported, armed personnel would have little chance of stopping a shooter. This was evident in the Parkland case, in which the armed guard never went inside the school nor did he try to engage with the shooter. Furthermore, the more guns in schools, the higher the chances of deadly accidents or unintended casualties when confronting a gunman.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has proposed cutting $25 million in funding for violence prevention and recovery assistance programs at public schools, some of which goes toward counselors who treat students for trauma and mental health issues.