Incoherent is a word I tend to use a lot about President Donald Trump, and with good reason: It is often an ideal descriptive, especially when it comes to his policy pronouncements.
Take his position on guns, which last week’s tragic massacre in Parkland, Florida, has brought to the fore, specifically that the surest way to make our schools safer is to dramatically increase the flow of weapons into them.
Even setting those objections aside, Trump’s own internal logic doesn’t hold up. “If this guy thought that other people would be shooting bullets back at him, he wouldn’t have gone to that school,” Trump told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. These shooters, who he describes as “very sick” and “mentally ill,” tend to “feel safe” at schools, he said, because “there’s nobody coming to come at them.”
But if these shooters are truly unhinged, what makes Trump think that they’re rational enough to overly worry about their own safety? Was the Parkland shooter drawn to his old school because it was gun-free (which it wasn’t, of which more in a moment) or because it was his old school? As Mark Barden, who lost his seven-year-old son in the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders, said at Trump’s White House event on Wednesday: “A deranged sociopath on his way to commit an act of murder in a school with the outcome – knowing the outcome is going to be suicide – is not going to care if there is somebody there with a gun.”
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And Trump’s logic doesn’t even fit the facts: The presence of armed security guards has not deterred murderers from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which had an armed police officer who did not go into the school to confront the shooter. Trump repeatedly lambasted the officer Thursday for cowardice and put his own spin on the situation: “See a security guard doesn’t know the children, doesn’t love the children,” he said Friday afternoon in an appearance with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “This man standing outside of the school the other day doesn’t love the children, probably doesn’t know the children. The teachers love their children. They love their pupils. They love their students.”
This is a remarkably insulting thing to say about the 14,000 to 20,000 police officers who serve in public schools nationwide: They’ve chosen careers as cops, but they can’t be counted on to do their jobs because they don’t love the school kids they see regularly enough? (The National Association of School Resource Officers, for the record, lists six reasons on its website why arming teachers is a dangerously bad idea.)
Here again, though, there’s a logical contradiction: Teachers can be counted on to act selflessly and mercilessly because they love their students – but act how? By pulling out a gun and shooting. As Gina Caneva, a Chicago school teacher, notes in a powerful piece on this site, weapons training includes “mindset development,” which is to say preparing teachers to gun down one of their own students. One trainer told the BBC that he “asks the teachers to close their eyes and imagine the student entering the classroom with a gun. In reality, a teacher might have just a split-second to assess the situation and respond. This is the most difficult and emotional part of the training, and reduces some of the participants to tears.”
Trump’s wacky idea gives grim new meaning to the idea of teachers loving their students to death.
But coherence is neither Trump’s strong suit nor, really, necessarily the point of the proposal. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that this is a bright shiny object designed to distract long enough for some other news story to come along and change the national subject.
And as such, it is more than a dumb and absurd suggestion, it’s a dangerous preoccupation. There is an opportunity here for a deal to be made by a sufficiently skilled and committed leader. As Ashley Pratte wrote on this site on Thursday, there are areas where reasonable people on all sides of the gun debate can agree, and there’s no reason they can’t be packaged together and passed: Ban bump-stocks? Improve background checks? Great. Grab all the low-hanging fruit into a new bill, pass it, sign it, declare victory and go back to your corners and get ready to start pushing for the harder stuff.
Would this be a perfect solution? Not close. Hell, it probably wouldn’t have done a thing to stop Parkland; but maybe it would help prevent another massacre elsewhere. And between incremental progress and gridlock, I’ll take the progress.
But making arming schools a centerpiece of your “solution” is what in Washington is called a poison pill, a provision certain to sink an otherwise popular bill. You can already see this strategy in action in legislation the House passed that paired improving background checks with legislation that would effectively nationalize state concealed-carry permits. This sort of tactic gives pro-gun hard-liners cover to say that they too support popular reforms, while also ensuring that nothing gets done, as such legislation doesn’t stand the least chance of passing the Senate. (You can also see something similar going on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, where Trump professes to want to take care of Dreamers while conditioning doing so on impossible demands.)
So there’s a real danger that even incremental progress fails because our political leaders cannot agree to agree. If Trump can get people to take “yes” for an answer, then he’ll deserve credit for getting something done. But by making armed teachers a centerpiece of his plan, Trump looks more interested in fire and fury than progress.
And given the real-world stakes, this poison pill may mean a lot more actual deaths.