Wednesday’s White House meeting on school safety was a triumph in successful vetting and presidential hand-holding. While billed as an opportunity for victims of the Parkland, Fla., mass school shooting to voice their concerns to the president, it quickly devolved into moving but ultimately worthless tragedy porn that gave President Donald Trump and his puppeteers in the National Rifle Association some wiggle room to never commit to policy changes.
Oh, and did I mention that the president literally had to be reminded to “listen” to victims of a horrible tragedy with empathy? Or that his solution involved turning every high school teacher into John Creasy from Man on Fire? Like most things in this administration, the train wreck was so slow and spread out, it was hard to grasp just how bad things were until you got to the end.
No president likes to be confronted with people who may insult him or call his work into question. Ronald Reagan had scripted press conferences; George W. Bush famously wouldn’t meet with Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war protester who lost her son in Iraq; even Barack Obama, who was masterful with hecklers, did a good job of curving the right kind of people at the door if he could. However, if this White House vetted everyone as thoroughly as it did the guests for this listening tour, Jared Kushner wouldn’t have access to the White House cafeteria, let alone top security clearance.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivor Arianna Klein started the president’s listening tour by telling Trump that he was doing a “great job” leading the country. Andrew Pollack, the father of a victim, holding back tears, indirectly praised Trump, too. It wasn’t until the tearful testimony of survivor Samuel Zeif (who actually brought me to tears) that anyone in the president’s presence actually mentioned banning any kind of assault weapon.
This is not to say that conservatives and Trump supporters don’t have a voice in these tragedies—they obviously do—but the fact that the White House had to make sure nobody challenged Trump, or perhaps asked him how he felt about mass shooter Nikolas Cruz wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat during one of his violent social media posts, was apparent.
Media close-ups of the paper Trump was fidgeting with during the session showed his CliffsNotes, including, “Blame it on Sessions,” “Blame it on the FBI” and “Tell them ‘I hear you.’” Yes, only one of those is true, but to be honest, would any of them surprise you, given that just last week Trump blamed the students themselves for failing to stop the shooter?
Which brings us to the craziest part of the entire afternoon, the Trump solution to school violence: Turn everybody into Kindergarten Cops. Trump’s big plan from the listening session is to give teachers guns.
“If you had a teacher with—who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly,” Trump said during the listening session. “We’re going to be looking at that very strongly.”
Then, in typical Trump fashion, once he got some backlash for such a ridiculous suggestion, he lied, claiming that he didn’t say what he just said, and then said it again.
Debunking Donald Trump’s insane, disorganized and racist tweets is something that I try to avoid, but this suggestion, coming out of that meeting, is literally the dumbest, most impractical response a president has ever had to a school shooting. U.S. public schools are so strapped for cash, they’re holding bake sales to pay for student bus passes and charging kids to play football. It’s highly unlikely that the city, state and federal governments are going to make it rain with millions of dollars to train teachers to use firearms.
Next—and let’s just be honest about the racial context of this—some teacher is going to shoot some student in class or in the hallway or in the cafeteria. The fact is, African-American children are overly penalized and punished in schools, and some white teacher is going to shoot a black kid because he or she felt “threatened.” Arming teachers is only going to escalate the likelihood of violence in schools, not limit it.
Last, and I speak from personal experience on this, as a faculty member, I love my colleagues, but I don’t want 20 percent of them armed. You want to see a spike in workplace violence? Give a bunch of teachers and professors guns and see how quickly a staff meeting or tenure and promotions process gets violent. Do you really want Ms. Grace from home economics to have quick access to her .45 after Principal Skinner says that her class trip to the Smithsonian is canceled because the football team needs new uniforms? Me neither.
The safest solution to the gun problem is to ban some types of weapons and to keep the president and his brand of violent, aggressive language and behavior as far away from the discussion as possible. No one knows if either of these things will happen, but my CliffsNotes tell me that the chances of any of these thoughts and prayers turning into meaningful policy as long as President Shooting Gallery is on the Twitter every few hours are about as likely as me feeling any safer carrying a .22 into the teachers’ lounge.