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Trump wants to arm only the teachers who have ‘natural talent,’ like being good at putting

President Trump criticized the press for saying he wants to arm teachers and said that he wants only those with "natural talent, like hitting a baseball." (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

For some reason, President Trump continues to insist that he doesn’t want to arm teachers. He seems to think that saying “Give teachers guns” implies that he wants to give every teacher a gun, which he doesn’t. He wants to give some teachers guns, as he wrote on Twitter last week.

On Monday, speaking to a group of governors, he added an additional point of clarity.

“When the press covered it, the headline was, ‘Trump wants all teachers to have guns. Trump wants teachers to have guns,’ ” he said. “I don’t want teachers to have guns.”

What does he want, then? “I want highly trained people that have a natural talent, like hitting a baseball, or hitting a golf ball, or putting. How come some people always make the four-footer and some people under pressure can’t even take their club back, right? They can’t even take their club back.”

Trump considers himself a very good athlete. On the first of his 11 days as Trump’s communications director, Anthony Scaramucci highlighted Trump’s athleticism in defense of how competitive the president is. The president claims that he was once scouted by the Phillies and regularly brags about winning various club championships at his golf courses. (In several cases, Trump’s “club championship” claims are a bit iffy.) Put another way, Trump thinks that the measure of a good marksman is someone who is good at the same sports that he is.

I spoke with Lateif Dickerson, chief firearms instructor at the New Jersey Firearms Academy, to evaluate whether excellence in other sports would translate to the range (much less a real-world active-shooter situation).

Dickerson reiterated that specific training is essential for anyone carrying a firearm. Each state sets a standard of proficiency that needs to be met to use a handgun. What Dickerson does for a living is help train people to meet those standards — and to train other people to conduct those trainings.

“The skill set of shooting a firearm and any other activity on Earth is a very separate skill set,” Dickerson said. “It’s a very specialized set of skills that it takes to operate a firearm, number one, and also to operate a firearm under stress.”

Athleticism might be helpful if a teacher were tasked with tackling a shooter, sure. Bullets, he said, are different.

“With a firearm, you’re pushing the trigger and making the decision to kill somebody with that firearm,” Dickerson said. “That’s a mental thing. We have a saying: You will not rise to the occasion, you will default to your training.” He noted that professional law enforcement officers on the scene failed to engage the shooter at a school massacre in Parkland, Fla., this month. (Trump also said Monday that he thought he would probably have run into the school during the shooting, even if unarmed.)

From the context of Trump’s comments, it’s not clear whether his argument was that the skills gained from swinging a baseball bat or sinking a four-foot putt translate directly to handling a gun, or whether he was arguing that the teachers who are armed should show the same proficiency with a weapon as a good golfer shows with a putter. But determining the latter would necessarily mean putting a lot of guns in a lot of teachers’ hands to evaluate their skills with the weapons. (By our estimates, getting 20 percent of teachers armed and trained would cost up to $1 billion — excluding Trump’s assertion that he would want the teachers recertified each year and to receive a bonus in their paychecks.)

It seems more likely, then, that Trump meant the former: that people with natural baseball and golfing ability would see those skills translate to dropping an armed gunman in the middle of an active-shooter situation.

Dickerson politely disagreed. He was “all for” teachers carrying, he said, but not ones screened solely on their ability on the green.

“I’ve been teaching people for 26 years. Thousands of people,” Dickerson said. “The president has trained no one, and he has no idea of what he’s talking about.”