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Betsy DeVos is considering allowing schools to use federal money to buy guns, report says

But it's not clear exactly how the Department of Education would make that happen.

by Emma Ockerman
Aug 23 2018, 2:20pm

Update 8/23 11:01 a.m. ET: Connecticut Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted that he filed a last-minute amendment to the Education Department’s budget bill that would prohibit arming teachers. “My lord - we can’t let this happen,” he wrote.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering allowing states to spend federal dollars to buy firearms for educators as a protective measure against a rash of school shootings, multiple people with knowledge of the plan told the New York Times.

Congress already passed a bill in March that allocated $50 million to local school districts for safety purposes each year, although that program prohibited the purchasing of firearms. If the U.S. Department of Education wanted to allow schools to access federal funds to buy weapons and ammunition, DeVos would likely have to go through the $1 billion in Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, which don’t explicitly bar those purchases, according to the Times. DeVos could then approve state or district plans to use that funding for guns or firearm training — at least until Congress bans it.

Then again, grants distributed by the Homeland Security Department for school preparedness don’t permit weapons or ammunition. And after several school shootings this year, Congress added a rule to the Stop School Violence Act that banned the use of grant money for firearms and training. That program issues grants to school districts through the Justice Department.

“The Department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety,” press secretary Liz Hill said in an emailed statement. “The Secretary nor the Department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”

The Student Support program, part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, is also meant for some of the neediest kids in the country, and typically funnels money toward efforts that improve school conditions and technology. So messing with that money might undermine efforts toward “drug and violence prevention,” the Times reported. Plus, some of the program’s original backers, including Rep. Robert C. Scott and Sen. Patty Murray, both Democrats, plus Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, oppose arming teachers.

The Department of Education, however, thinks that gun purchases might technically improve school conditions, people familiar with the discussions told the Times, and officials have been looking into this ever since school shootings earlier this year killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, and 10 people in Santa Fe, Texas. The Trump administration has also already tried to eliminate the student support grants from its budget, on top of exploring the role that violent video games play in school safety, rather than guns.

DeVos said in June that the School Safety Commission — formed in early March after the mass shooting in Parkland — wouldn’t look at guns because it wasn’t “part of the commission's charge, per se.”

Since the White House had directed the commission to study age restrictions for certain firearm purchases, the department’s spokeswoman later affirmed that the commission would be looking into gun restrictions states and schools can implement, according to the Washington Post.

But the most recent deliberations on federal funding for guns appear to be happening outside of that commission, the Post reported.

Cover image: Teachers cover their ears as Rick Noble, owner of Adventure Tactical Training, fires off rounds from an AR-15 during a concealed-carry class for teachers Sunday, June 10, 2018, at Adventure Tactical Training in Farmer City, Illinois. (David Proeber, The Pantagraph via AP)

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