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Opinion A frighteningly large number of Americans support arming teachers

(Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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The suggestion that we arm teachers in response to school shootings is not just a profoundly, hideously awful idea. It’s also a distraction that shifts the subject away from the serious national debate we need to have over whether sensible improvements in gun regulations might help mitigate the carnage.

So it’s easy to dismiss it as rank misdirection when President Trump talks up the idea of arming teachers, as he has done repeatedly. But the problem is that a lot of Americans actually support the concept in a general sense, if this new CBS News poll is any indication:

The poll finds that 50 percent of Americans oppose allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns, but 44 percent of Americans support it. This is heavily driven by Republicans — 68 percent of them support this. But so do a lot of independents — they are split, with 47 percent of them supporting the idea and 46 percent opposing it.

Support for arming teachers among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents may partly be driven by the fact that Trump has endorsed the idea in recent days. Trump floated “concealed carry for teachers” two days ago, and yesterday suggested giving a “bonus” to people in schools who are “highly adept people … that understand weaponry” for carrying guns. The CBS poll was taken largely over the days during which Trump suggested the idea.

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Political scientists tell us that voters often take their cues on issues from what they hear from elected leaders, and here may be an example of this. At the very least, if Trump continues to talk it up, the support for it may solidify, at least among some Americans.

And it’s an awful idea. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, made an extensive and persuasive argument against it in an interview with radio host Michael Smerconish, arguing that teachers are not and should not be trained as “sharpshooters,” and that having teachers open fire in such a situation would likely add to the chaos and bloodshed. Weingarten continued that this would create “an arms race in schools,” with the result that “more and more guns” will “create more and more victims.”

“Inside a school building, a school has to be a sanctuary. It has to be a place of learning,” Weingarten said. “What else are we going to do? Are we now going to start wearing bulletproof vests for everybody?”

Others have pointed out other problems with the idea, such as the possibility that teachers might leave their guns in unlocked desk drawers, and that schools would have the extra burden of ensuring that teachers are safe to carry guns. Then there’s the possibility that police might show up and find an even more confused, chaotic scene. Education groups strongly oppose the idea, and according to Politico, even some school boards in places where it has been legalized have opposed it.

Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) also oppose it. “The notion that my kids are going to school with teachers that are armed with a weapon is not something that, quite frankly, I’m comfortable with,” he said at this week’s CNN town hall on gun violence.

None of this is going to happen. But what’s also troubling about the idea is that it appears deliberately intended to both play on people’s disillusionment with our failure to slow the violence and to further entrench that disillusionment. It’s no accident, as James Hohmann points out, that NRA leader Wayne La Pierre and Trump both used the same language after the shooting — both employed some variation of the idea that we must “harden” our schools.

This is all about manipulating people’s fear for their children’s safety — something that stirs deep terror in all of us. The idea is to basically get us to capitulate: Politicians haven’t protected our children, so forget about pressuring them to get serious about thinking about how to meaningfully regulate guns in the public interest — and instead embrace more guns as the solution. Embrace the arms race. Unfortunately, on large swaths of Americans, it may be working.

Opinion writers Jonathan Capehart, Molly Roberts, Jo-Ann Armao and Christine Emba scoff at President Trump's proposal to arm specially trained teachers. (Video: The Washington Post)

* NO LONGER A ‘NATION OF IMMIGRANTS’? The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has eliminated the phrase “USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” from its mission statement. The Post adds:

In his letter to USCIS employees, director L. Francis Cissna explained that the new statement is “simple, straightforward” and “clearly defines the agency’s role.” He provided no explanation for the elimination of “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.” USCIS spokespeople declined to explain the decision.

It won’t be long until dogged reporting establishes how this happened. Anyone want to bet against Stephen Miller as the culprit?

* A KEY REVEAL IN NEW MANAFORT INDICTMENT: The Post points out that the special counsel’s new indictment of Paul Manafort, which alleges rampant fraud, accuses him of lawbreaking that occurred as he joined the Trump campaign:

When Manafort joined the Trump campaign as an adviser in early 2016, he agreed to work with no pay, pitching his ability to work free as a point of particular appeal for Trump, who was notoriously stingy and also valued people who appeared to be wealthy.
In fact, prosecutors alleged Manafort was taking out multimillion-dollar loans in those same months, including $5.5 million that he sought in the same month he joined the campaign.

Only the best people …

* POLL: GUNS COULD MATTER IN MIDTERMS: A new Marist poll finds that 71 percent of Americans say the laws governing the sale of guns should be stricter. Note this:

A majority of voters (54%) say they would definitely (34%) or probably (20%) vote for a congressional candidate who supports a ban on semi-automatic assault guns. This compares with 40% who report they would definitely (24%) or probably (16%) vote against a congressional hopeful who backed a ban.

Huge majorities of women and people in cities and suburbs say gun policy will play a key role in their vote. And those voters will be key to the Democrats’ midterm chances.

* TRUMP ALLEGEDLY MOVED BY GUNSHOT WOUNDS: The New York Times reports this remarkable detail on Trump’s visit to Florida shooting victim at a hospital, which Trump reflected on at a dinner with Geraldo Rivera:

The president noted that the injuries he saw were more grisly than those portrayed in the movies. “He was definitely horrified by the severity, the savagery of those wounds that the children suffered,” Mr. Rivera recalled. “And he kept saying, ‘How do you recover from that?’ ”

There will be some mockery of this, but if it actually did drive home to Trump the reality of gun violence, that’s good. The question is whether this will end up mattering in the least.

* TWO TOP TRUMP OFFICIALS MAY QUIT: Reuters reports that tensions have grown so bad between Trump and his national security adviser and chief of staff that both men may soon bail:

Both H.R. McMaster and John Kelly are military men considered by U.S. political observers as moderating influences on the president by imposing a routine on the White House. They have also convinced Trump of the importance of international alliances, particularly NATO, which he has criticized as not equally sharing its burdens with the United States.

The notion that they are “moderating” Trump has always been a demonstrable absurdity, given Trump’s ongoing conduct, but one can always imagine things getting far worse without them.

* THE AMERICAN ‘DEATH BELT’: Paul Krugman points out that gun deaths are another instance of deaths being more concentrated in some states than others:

America has a “car death belt” in the Deep South and the Great Plains; it corresponds quite closely to the firearms death belt defined by age-adjusted gun death rates. It also corresponds pretty closely to … the states that have refused to expand Medicaid, gratuitously denying health care to millions of their citizens.

True, but as it happens, in a number of states with high gun death rates, Dems have a big opportunity to win back gubernatorial mansions, so let’s channel some energy into that.

* AND THE MYSTERY OF THOSE EMPATHY CARDS IS SOLVED: The Post figures out how Trump ended up holding a card with notes like “I hear you” at his event with people affected by school shootings:

The president, who has often struggled to convey empathy, clutched a slim notecard with reminders about how to communicate with the grieving — “I hear you,” read one — that officials said White House Communications Director Hope Hicks jotted down during a huddle with Trump to prepare for the event.

Now that’s some good communications work, Hope. You’re really earning your salary.