Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten, saying America's schools should be "safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses," called on President Trump on Wednesday to meet with educators to "share our concerns about arming teachers."
Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), wrote an open letter to Trump warning his plan to arm teachers and staff members in school nationwide "would make our schools less safe." AFT has 1.7 million members and 3,000 local affiliates nationwide.
Weingarten added AFT has heard "universal" opposition to arming educators with firearms.
"Teachers don't want to be armed," she wrote. "We want to teach.
"Our first instinct is to protect kids, not engage in a shootout that would place more children in danger," she added.
Trump proposed arming teachers as a way to deter gun violence in schools following the deaths of 17 people at the hands of a deranged shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. In a recent speech Trump said, "A teacher would've shot the hell out of him."
One week after the shooting, AFT passed a resolution stating: "President Trump and Republicans have ignored this crisis, offering, at best, rhetorical gestures and, at worst, blatant hypocrisy."
Last week in an AFT news release, Weingarten stated: "I am sickened by those doing the bidding of the gun lobby, and those like President Trump and Betsy DeVos who want an arms race and to turn schools into militarized fortresses by arming teachers."
In Wednesday's open letter to the president, Weingarten raises several questions about how Trump's proposal would actually be implemented.
- Would the guns be carried openly in holsters?
- Would each classroom be equipped with a gun closet?
- Would gun-carrying teachers be expected to periodically recertify?
- What about the risk a teacher's weapon could be seized and turned against innocent people?
- Would teachers just protect their classroom, or the entire school?
- How would police responding to a report of a gunman at the school avoid mistaking an armed teacher for the gunman?
"You may not have even thought about many of these questions," wrote Weingarten, "much less thought through them. That's exactly why our voice is so important to this discussion."
Noting that Trump recently met with union leaders to discuss NAFTA, Weingarten stated: "We ask you show the same respect when it comes to our schools."
Weingarten's letter recommends a number of "sensible steps" officials could take to make schools safer. Among them: Expanded mental health services, cancelling proposed cuts in school safety programs, wider background checks, a ban on assault rifles, and staffing schools "with well-trained resource officers, who may be armed if a community so decides."
She concluded her letter to the president by expressing the hope teachers and the administration "can find common ground" to better protect students and faculty.
"But that means listening to and learning from those who know our schools best," she said.
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