U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, chairman of a federal commission on school safety, doesn’t want to talk about gun control. Neither does her boss, President Donald Trump.

DeVos, who has spent most of her time in office working to dismantle the Department of Education, told a Senate panel in June that firearms are “not part of the commission’s charge, per se.” That’s right. The already impotent commission called for by President Trump in response to outrage over school shootings will not consider the defining element of school shootings — guns.

Guns are not an issue the commission wants to include in its agenda? That’s like convening a commision on sexually transmitted diseases but barring them from discussing condoms.  

DeVos didn’t show up to a meeting of the commission in Cheyenne last week. Neither did the three other principal members of the group: the attorney general and secretaries of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.

No one should be surprised that a commission created by the president to make schools safer is interested less in safety than in PR and pandering.

One of the first actions President Donald Trump pushed through Congress repealed a rule that would have made it harder for people with mental illnesses to buy guns.

The motive for such an asinine move was transparent: the rule was created during former President Barack Obama’s administration, so of course Trump had to get rid of it no matter how many lives it might have saved.

The president’s immediate reaction in February to the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school by a mentally disturbed former student who killed 17 was to arm teachers so they could supposedly defend their schools. It was straight out of the National Rifle Association’s playbook to distract from what the president and Congress should be doing and instead focus on the divisive issue of putting the burden on educators to stop invaders armed to the teeth with high-powered weapons.

Six months after Parkland and the much-needed national discussion it sparked about school violence, the Trump administration is content to put its dog-and-pony show on the road to places like Cheyenne so people can think the federal government is taking school safety seriously.

The commission is merely paying lip service to teachers, administrators, students and parents who want to see stricter laws and more mental health services so doctors and law enforcement can better recognize and stop some of society’s most dangerous people.

Trump and his commission would much rather continue to press the NRA’s simple-minded solution that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to put firearms in the hands of good guys — in this case teachers.

Never mind that inexperienced teachers — no matter how well-trained they may be with firearms — are hired to educate students, not stop an active-shooter. In trying to take out a killer, civilians suddenly put in charge of protecting everyone around them are likely to create more victims during a time of total chaos. No matter how willing or able the teacher may be, we as a society should never burden them with that responsibility.

Having multiple people shooting at each other would naturally confuse first responders who would have no idea who is the criminal.

Fourteen states allow armed teachers in all school districts; Wyoming and 15 others authorize each school district to decide on its own if it wants to let staff carry guns.

School districts in Cody and Evanston chose to allow teachers with concealed carry permits and specified firearms training to have guns at their schools. Others are considering the idea.

Johnson Junior High School Principal Brian Cox of Cheyenne memorably compared asking a teacher to take down a shooter to asking a plumber to cut your hair — that’s not their job, and you’re not going to like the outcome.

Instead of transforming teachers into modern-day versions of Wyatt Earp, Cox has a much better idea. “The time, energy and money to focus on [school safety] would be better spent on mental health issues and increasing the [number] of social workers and psychologists,” he said.

The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun, in other words, is to identify and treat him before he picks up a gun and becomes a bad guy. One might also frame his approach in terms of ounces of prevention vs. pounds of violent cure.

In an interview Cox told me he doesn’t think any school situation has ever been made safer by bringing in more guns. “It’s like putting fire on more fire — it’s a recipe for disaster,” the principal said.

Cox said that at the Parkland High School tragedy, “Even law enforcement froze up and couldn’t act. It could happen to teachers too, even if they are avid hunters. I’m very skeptical that some wouldn’t freeze up” and also become victims.

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An armed teacher might feel secure enough in his firearms training, experience and abilities that he or she would make the bad decision to leave the classroom to take on a shooter, he noted. Worse yet, he or she may feel obligated to do so once we’ve tasked teachers with defending students. If that transpired, Cox said, it would leave students vulnerable without an adult to try to keep them alive and lead them to safety. Staying with students behind locked doors is the proper response, he reasoned.

Students may find a teacher’s gun in a classroom no matter what measures are taken to secure them, he said, and guns can accidentally discharge. “Telling parents that their son or daughter was accidentally killed would be a very difficult call to make,” Cox said.

The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reported that Vera Berger, a New Mexico high school student who traveled to Wyoming, told the commission it should consider guns “a primary threat to school safety,” even if they are in the hands of school staff or law enforcement.

Berger poignantly noted her generation has grown up in the wake of the massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School and has been waiting to no avail to see the government do something to make students more safe.

“We watched the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School unfold,” she recalled of the 2012 massacre of 20 elementary students and six teachers in Connecticut. “We were horrified. Ultimately we were hopeful because we knew that the tragedy would bring change.”

But in the six years since Sandy Hook, Berger said, “There have been 250 school shootings and little political action.”

It’s a national disgrace that Congress has failed to act, initially killing Obama’s call for stricter gun laws and now following Trump’s lead to ignore the problem except for expecting teachers to mow down any gunmen in sight.

Survivors of the Parkland shooting have protested and challenged adults to do something about gun violence. Students throughout the nation, including at several schools in Wyoming, have also held rallies and asked older generations to listen to their pleas for peace at schools, where they should be safe.

They deserve our protection, not just public condolences and telling survivors and families they are “in our thoughts and prayers.”

It’s not nearly enough. So many of our leaders are willing to buckle under pressure from gun-rights groups and others who fund their campaigns, then ask us to turn a blind eye to the sight of students and adults being carried out of schools in body bags.

Here’s how the school safety commission has responded to its task so far: Abbey Clements, a teacher and Sandy Hook survivor, spoke against arming teachers at its Washington, D.C., meeting.

The Los Angeles Times reported what Clements said, even though her words didn’t make it into the official transcript. “Sure, secure buildings,” the teacher said.

“But do not give kids clear backpacks, bulletproof backpacks, reading igloos that morph into bulletproof caves,” Clements stressed. “These are the things of a war zone and shouldn’t be in American public schools. It’s the guns, and this is on us to fix. …”

The newspaper said Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais — the same official who moderated the Cheyenne meeting — cut Clements off and asked her to “wrap it up, please.”

It’s the guns. Trump and his safety commission have done their best to keep the truth out of their conversation. They might as well wrap up their work — they knew the outcome before they heard a word from the rest of us.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. The Democrats want to ban guns in schools while the Republicans want to arm the teachers. What both sides clearly miss is that the majority of students, in any state, that are injured or killed are done so on their way to or from school Wyoming’s state law requiring school buses to have cameras that record violators who pass buses while they are loading or unloading students will save more lives than all the gun toting teachers in the world. Cameras in schools will do a better job at protecting students than a gun toting teacher who needs to keep the gun locked up to ensure the students don’t take it. The only problem with cameras, including the Wyoming bus cameras, is someone has to watch the videos.
    The Florida Parkland shooting had a security camera set up but no one monitored it. An armed stranger actually went into the empty hallways and pulled the fire alarm. When students came out of the classrooms the shooter shot them. I worked in schools in California, Nebraska and Wyoming and was amazed at the lack of security that allowed an armed shooter to enter Parkland.

  2. Why is it that Democrats only want to arm America’s enemies?

    How many school shootings were there before Joe Bidon’s 1990 Gun-Free School Zones Act? And since?

    Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 is a perfect example of well meaning laws, written by people out of touch with reality, that have disastrous, intrusive and the complete opposite effect that was intended.

    I don’t want to ask our teachers to carry a gun, nor pay for their training, but since the Democrats continue to infringe on American freedoms and safety, we are out of options.

  3. Kerry, you are so predictably wrong here, on so many points, that it’s impossible to refute all your goofy memes – tirelessly repeated by all the usual progressive, anti-gun groups and commentators with no regard for their inaccuracy and illogic. Here are only a few examples:

    Both the feds and the Wyoming people – WDE, school board trustees and administrators, law enforcement, and others in attendance last week (I was there, start to finish) – in fact spent most of their time talking about physical security (single point of access, locks, window films and the like), mental health, detection, prevention, and intervention programs, and how to improve them based on successes and lessons learned elsewhere.

    What you reflexive anti-gun people, who only use this issue to advance your larger campaign against firearms ownership, don’t understand is that the cost of selection and training for a few volunteer school staff members to carry concealed firearms (you never need more than 5-10%) is miniscule compared to all these other programs. Selection, screening, and initial training plus ten years of annual training doesn’t cost more than $10,000 a person. Check any school district’s budget for what they are spending, and will spend, on all these other security measures, and then let’s talk about costs; for just one small part of that picture, consider that the annual burdened salary cost of a single School Resource Officer is around $90,000 – an amount that would fund nine armed staff members for ten years. Most of us can walk and chew gum at the same time, and our schools can pursue a comprehensive security strategy that includes all these elements.

    Your other tired talking points about all the scary consequences of having screened, trained staff armed in the schools are contradicted by common sense, professional knowledge, and vast experience in schools across the country. There are many thousands of trained school staff members carrying firearms in the U.S., and not one of them has shot anyone accidentally or wrongfully; none of them have been overpowered and their gun taken away; and none of them have left their guns unattended where they can be found by a child. They haven’t injured anyone in a “Wild West” shootout, because none of the schools where they are present have been targeted by an active shooter (isn’t that interesting?). And before you start dragging in purported examples of any of these things, remember that we are talking about K-12 schools, and about staff members vetted, screened, selected, approved, and trained according to demanding requirements such as those adopted in Cody and Evanston – and in Ohio, Colorado, South Dakota, and all the rest of the states that have been doing this for years. No other examples pertain. Cops, SROs, and security guards – including teachers who are part-time, retired, or reserve officers – have had problems, but no school staff member screened and approved by their district, and certified through a professional training program, have done these things. It might just be that, like the millions of citizens legally carrying concealed firearms in public daily, school staff members who are willing to step up and protect themselves and their students are diligent, dedicated, capable, responsible, and safe. You must have a very poor opinion of “teachers” to assume they cannot do what so many of us do daily in America.

    And finally, how illogical and essentially immoral can you be, to suggest that the presence of someone able to fight back against an active shooter creates risks of injury greater than what that active shooter, unopposed, would inflict on the innocent! You must have a really serious failure of imagination and critical thinking – and clearly have not read the case histories of school shootings – if you are not capable of understanding what happens when a shooter walks down the aisles between desks executing students (and staff) until he decides to quit. And then you argue that it’s better to keep all our schools completely vulnerable to that threat rather than prepared to resist and save lives.

    You clearly don’t know, and don’t care to learn the facts on these issues; you just want to breathe more life into these tired old complaints to advance an agenda that isn’t really about school security at all – because every other school security measure you name is fully supported by everyone who recognizes the need for armed security for that day when all other measures fail and lives are at risk.

    1. Great article, Mr. Drake. I do disagree with the overall Democratic Party philosophy on this issue in gun control as the answer. How ever at least they are looking at the problem unlike the Republican party of lets arm everyone and make it even. I am a safety professional so as I see this issue, it is through that lens. Do I own weapons you are damn right I own multiple hand guns and black rifles. Do I think guns are the issue we need to concentrate on? No I do not. Would stricter gun laws help? Your Damn right they would. Do I have a problem with stricker gun laws? No I dont if I had to wait a year to purchase a fire arm I wanted so the FBI could vet every portion of my life so be it. So if we did a root cause analysis (Industry way of finding the cause of an incident) on every school shooting I do not think we would find that the gun used was the root cause it would be the tool. Parkland for example. The shooter was an ex-student, During his enrollment the staff had attempted to have him mentally evaluated due to trends it observed threw his interaction with staff and classmates, they could not due to the requirements of the metal health codes.so he fell through the cracks, he left and a year latter we know what happened. so to quote Mr. Cox Instead of transforming teachers into modern-day versions of Wyatt Earp, Cox has a much better idea. “The time, energy and money to focus on [school safety] would be better spent on mental health issues and increasing the [number] of social workers and psychologists,” . Mr. Cox is spot on you do not fix the issue by throwing more guns at it.. Try to catch and fix the people that want to commit acts like this. Neither political party wants to do this because it is the hardest to do. Which is unacceptable in my opinion. To Mr. Tallen you are incorrect in your statement that none of the schools where armed staff members are present, have been targeted. by school shooters. , Parkland had a full time resource officer whom had the training you speak of. Also I believe there was a teacher in Utah who shoot an armed assailant in a school but I could be wrong .

      1. Mr. Reichart, my statement was quite accurate. I was speaking of school staff members, i.e. teachers, counselors, administrators, custodians, etc., who are approved to carry concealed firearms in accordance with state law and school board policy, as I made clear. This does not include uniformed School Resource Officers; as I pointed out myself, schools with SROs, like the Parkland and Columbine high schools, have indeed been targeted by armed assailants. Those SROs were ineffective in defending their schools; some have succeeded. My point is simply that we cannot judge the effectiveness of approved school staff members carrying concealed, because so far, none of their schools have been attacked. This implies (but certainly does not prove) a measure of deterrence, which as a safety professional I’m sure you can understand: not knowing whether there are armed defenders present, or how many, or who or where they might be, will present a potential attacker with a great deal of uncertainty about his chances of success.

        Utah state law is very unlike Wyoming’s – it allows anyone with a Utah concealed carry permit, staff or not, to carry in their schools, and without meeting any specified training requirement, or receiving specific approval from, or notification to, the governing school board. So whatever events have occurred or not occurred in Utah, they are not in my data set. I like our approach better, and my statement was specific to states, districts, and schools that have followed a similar approach.

  4. Kerry, your column was spot-on, especially the theater of the federal commission. I fully concur with Brian Cox, but would the following: Certainly there is an uptick in school active shooters, but the primary threats to student safety and security at school are, a) mental health issues, b) healthy families, c) homelessness, d) food, e) healthcare, and socio-economic equity. All issues neither the feds or the state have any intent in responding to.

  5. It’s so difficult to get political leaders, especially the candidates for high public office, to engage in a real discussion of this issue. They’re cowed by the pro-gun groups.

    They should pay more attention to people like Principal Cox:

    “The time, energy and money to focus on [school safety] would be better spent on mental health issues and increasing the [number] of social workers and psychologists,” he said.

    Instead, the candidates for governor and U.S. Senate tout their life memberships in and their ratings by the NRA and Gun Owners of America. When will they offer some practical solutions? They won’t have to threaten our Second Amendment rights by asking for reasonable regulations on gun buyers and by dedicating more resources to address mental illness.

  6. Young people are already reconsidering a career in teaching – low pay, insufficient resources, lack of community support for education issues, etc. If you introduce a policy of arming teachers, young people will reject teaching as a career choice in ever increasing numbers. Who will teach our children? Armed guards?