Democrats file "emergency" amendment to block Betsy DeVos from arming teachers

Trump's education secretary is looking to use a legal loophole to allow federal funds to buy guns for teachers

Published August 23, 2018 2:33PM (EDT)

Betsy DeVos (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Betsy DeVos (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is reportedly looking to use a legal loophole to allow federal funds to buy guns for teachers — and Democrats appear determined to stop her.

The New York Times reports that the Department of Education is considering using the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program to circumvent laws that prohibit the use of federal funding to purchase firearms for teachers. The SSAE grants — which are intended to fund the poorest school districts in the country, and calls for school districts to use the money to provide a well-rounded education and improve digital literacy and school conditions — would instead be given to states or districts to use that money toward firearms and firearms training, the outlet said.

In response to the Times report, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he is introducing a "last minute emergency" amendment on Thursday to block the Education Department's funding bill.

"The Secretary of Education cares more about the firearms industry's bottom line than the safety of our kids, and that should scare parents to death," Murphy said in a statement. "I have two elementary school age boys, and so I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that Secretary DeVos's plan to arm our schools is stopped in its tracks."

"I'm introducing legislation today to block the arming of teachers, and I do so knowing that earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together to pass a bill that expressly opposed putting guns in the hands of teachers," the Connecticut Democrat continued.

Murphy mentioned that Congress, parents, and teachers "don't think this is a good idea" and that "only Betsy DeVos and the gun industry want this."

"More kids will be killed in schools if this policy is put in place—plain and simple. That’s why Congress must block its implementation," he concluded.

The Education Department's unprecedented decision would undermine recent efforts by Congress to limit the use of federal funds to buy guns. In March, Congress passed the "Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018," a school safety bill that authorizes $50 million in grants per year to school districts to train students, law enforcement and teachers to identify the signs of school violence before it occurs. The bill prohibited, however, funding "for the provision to any person of a firearm or training in the use of a firearm."

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A spokeswoman for the Education Department said "The department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety," Liz Hill told the Times, however, "The secretary nor the department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios."

In the aftermath of the deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, which left 14 students and three faculty members dead in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump tweeted his support for arming teachers as a protective and preventative measure.

Trump push for more guns in the hands of teachers came under fierce scrutiny from educators, students, gun control activists and lawmakers, and it's likely DeVos' plan will face the same criticism.

Several students from the Florida high school where 17 people were fatally killed on February 14 told Salon they were uncomfortable with the idea of arming teachers.

"As far as I'm aware, police officers around the country are trained in an important skill called weapon retention, which is focused on never losing possession or control of their weapon under any circumstance," Junior Dylan Bowerman said after it was reported that a Douglas teacher left a loaded gun in a public bathroom, where a homeless person picked it up and fired it. "This is part of the reason I support more guns on campus – but only on the belt of a police officer. I personally add this incident to the already long list of reasons nobody else, including teachers, should have guns on campus."

Sofie Whitney, another student, told Salon, "This situation is a prime example of why we should not be arming our teachers. What if he had accidentally left his gun in a classroom? Not logical."

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By Shira Tarlo

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Betsy Devos Democrats Education Department Gun Safety Guns In School Sen. Chris Murphy