Missouri state Representative Andrew McDaniel is a rural legislator from a gun-loving US state. However, when he heard that then-US secretary of education nominee Betsy DeVos had suggested that schools might need guns to protect children from grizzly bear attacks, the self-described “country boy” laughed.
“In my state, I don’t believe we have grizzly bears,” he said.
However, McDaniel does agree with DeVos that there are good reasons for local schools to allow gun carrying, or even have guns on hand. His reasoning — not “potential grizzlies,” but the US constitution.
“If taxpayer dollars are funding a facility you should be able to exercise your Second Amendment right to carry,” he said.
Elementary schools and college campuses have become the new front in the US’ battle over gun laws. A series of devastating school shootings, including a 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 first-graders dead, has only propelled efforts to make it easier to carry guns at school and on campus.
Last year, gun control advocates defeated legislation in 15 states that would have allowed more guns into K-12 [kindergarten through 12th grade] schools, according to a national group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Already this year, nine states have introduced new legislation, the group said.
The fight over guns in schools is now heating up in Washington too.
“We haven’t had to worry about guns in schools at the federal level for the last eight years, because we knew we had a president in office who did not support this,” Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts said.
Now that reassurance is gone.
One year ago, then-US presidential candidate Donald Trump pledged: “I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools.”
He later partially walked back that pledge and his campaign Web site made no mention of eliminating gun-free zones in schools as part of his otherwise expansive gun-rights platform.
Some gun rights advocates in US Congress have already moved to eliminate federal restrictions on guns in schools.
US Representative Thomas Massie, a Republican, last month introduced a bill that would roll back the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, arguing that barring guns from schools “makes people less safe by inviting criminals into target-rich, no-risk environments.”
Despite the intense anxiety over school shootings in the US — and the argument that schools need more guns to keep them safe — it is extremely rare for US children to be killed at school for any reason. Data suggest that they are much more likely to be shot to death outside of school, in their homes or neighborhoods.
School safety expert Dewey Cornell has calculated that the typical US school can expect to see a student homicide about once every 6,000 years.
A fight over a federal law to allow more guns in public schools would probably galvanize strong opposition, Watts said.
“Putting guns in schools — it makes guns look like the solution to gun violence. It normalizes a younger generation to have guns everywhere,” she said.
She called guns in school laws a “marketing tool” for firearms, “not a public service announcement.”
Whether the Trump White House would actually embrace the fight to make it easier to carry guns in schools is not yet clear.
Asked last week when Trump would keep his campaign promise to get rid of gun-free school zones, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer said the president has “been very active in terms of getting executive orders out” and promised “further updates.”