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What Trump’s plan to prevent school shootings leaves out

Will President Trump’s school safety plan help stop mass shootings? Judy Woodruff gets reaction from Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America and Katherine Newman, author of “Rampage,” on plans to arm educators, expand mental health treatment and enact a commission to study the problem.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's look more closely now at the president's plan on school safety, which changes in there might be most helpful, which are not, and what's missing.

    We're going to have more views in the weeks to come. But, tonight, we talk to two who have looked at past shootings closely.

    Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action. That group was formed soon after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut. And Katherine Newman is author of the book "Rampage — The Social Roots of School Shootings." She's a provost and a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts.

    And welcome both of you to the NewsHour.

    Shannon Watts, let me start with you. I'm going to get to the specifics in just a moment.

    But taking this proposal as a whole, do you think it will prevent, help prevent school shootings in the future?

  • Shannon Watts:

    No.

    I mean, I don't think the proposal put forward by the president is in any way helpful. In fact, in a word, it's pathetic. It takes all of the onus for gun safety in this country and pushes it down to the states, while elevating the NRA's top priorities, like arming teachers and incentivizing the states to do that.

    Look, if arming teachers was the answer, we wouldn't have the problem we have in this country. We need to disarm dangerous people, not arm teachers. And the reality is, even highly trained police officers hit their targets about 18 percent of the time. We cannot turn volunteer teachers into sharpshooters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I want to ask you about that in just a moment.

    But just taking the proposal as a whole, Katherine Newman, do you believe this is going to help prevent future school shootings?

  • Katherine Newman:

    I don't think it takes advantage of what we really know about these shootings. We need to focus on making sure kids come forward with information because, they hear lot of rumors and threats, and that when that information is collected, we act on it.

    In all of the most recent incidents, we have seen people come forward to the FBI, and not enough intervention was possible. We need to focus on that. Arming teachers really worries me, because, as Shannon said, accuracy is a real problem, especially when people are feeling pressured and anxious, which they obviously would be in such a catastrophic situation.

    So I don't think that's going to help matters. In fact, it may even attract more shooters to schools.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, just quickly for a moment, Shannon Watts, on this idea of arming teachers, the White House says what they are doing is simply working with the states to help them train some school officials, so that they can be in a position to stop a shooting when it happens.

  • Shannon Watts:

    So, I just want to be clear, this is not a public service announcement. This is a very cynical marketing ploy.

    The gun lobby is trying to make up a shortfall in gun manufacturers' profits of about $100 million, or 10 percent, since Donald Trump was elected. Arming even a fraction of our country's 3.2 million teachers would help make up that shortfall.

    So this is not a data-driven solution that research has found will somehow stop these shootings or save our children. It's actually a cynical gun lobby ploy to sell more guns.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, there are other elements to this proposal, Katherine Newman. As we know, they — among other things, they say they want to strengthen the existing criminal background check system by requiring more reporting than is the case right now.

    How much difference could that make?

  • Katherine Newman:

    I think that could make a difference. And we should applaud the positive elements of this proposal.

    We know that some people were on local radar screens, and the information just didn't get through to the right agents. So I do think that that is important. I also think we need to stick to the idea that we raise the access to guns to 21.

    The president has the capacity to be quite persuasive on these matters when he wants to be, and we ought to go back to that table and make sure that happens.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, Shannon Watts? The White House says that proposal is still on the table, but it wasn't part of what was presented in this paper that was released earlier.

  • Shannon Watts:

    Yes, really none of the data-driven solutions that the president said he supported last week were in the proposal.

    There is no red flag law. There is no closing the boyfriend loophole, requiring universal background checks. All of that somehow went out the window. Instead, we're left with arming teachers.

    So, look, this has been up to the states for awhile. We have been doing this in the states and winning, both killing bad bills and supporting good bills. And that is where we will keep doing the work, until we get the right Congress and president in place to take action on these horrific shootings in our country; 96 Americans are shot and killed every day.

    We can't not act.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Katherine Newman, how much difference do you think it would make to raise the age at which someone is able to buy a long gun?

  • Katherine Newman:

    I think it would help, because the most immature people at the ages of 18 and 19 would have it — it would become much more difficult for them to gain access to guns. But we should remember that's not really sufficient.

    In the shootings that we studied, these young people stole guns that were legally acquired. So, raising the gun age all by itself is not enough, but it's part of a mix. And, as Shannon said, in the end, it's going to be a mix if we really want to have effective legislation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of the mix, Shannon Watts, another element of this, the president is establishing a federal commission on school safety.

    He's asking the secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, to head it up. They are going to study this entire issue for a year, come back with recommendations. Isn't it — is it possible that some good ideas could come out of that?

  • Shannon Watts:

    Well, the president himself made the fun of commissions, the exact same kind of commissions on Saturday in Pennsylvania, and then turned around the next day and announced the new commission to study something that Florida was able to pass in less than a week.

    Raising the age that 18-year-olds can buy long guns to 21 is common sense. If you can't buy a handgun or a beer or even rent a car, you shouldn't be able to buy a semiautomatic rifle.

    The reason the president took that out of his plan is because the NRA opposes it. It is why they turned around and sued the state of Florida. So, again, the $30 million that the NRA invested in Donald Trump's campaign is clearly paying off.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In another move, Katherine Newman, the White House talks about what it calls better integrating mental health, primary care, family services programs, an effort I think to get — to make sure that young people who have problems, who may be disturbed have access, can get the treatment that they need.

  • Katherine Newman:

    I absolutely applaud that. It's long overdue, and I think it's a wonderful thing if we can really make it happen.

    In most high schools around the country, we have been cutting those kinds of resources. We have been overburdening guidance counselors, who have often 500 students to look after. They can't possibly attend to those who are in trouble and need mental health resources. So I think that this is really a very positive step if we can make it happen.

    School shooters are the tip of a very dangerous and disturbed iceberg. And that iceberg is made up of millions of kids who are suffering from depression. If we can attend to their issues, we will see fewer of them take these extreme steps.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, in connection with that, Shannon Watts, the White House is talking about urging states to pass so these called-risk protection orders, in other words, making it easier to take guns away from individuals who are known to be a harm, a risk of harming themselves or someone else.

  • Shannon Watts:

    Yes.

    And, again, he is pushing that down to the states. This is a law that could be passed on a federal level. It allows families and police to petition a judge to get a temporary restraining order if someone seems to be a danger to themselves or others. We have passed this law so far in five states. It could have helped in this situation in Florida. So this is absolutely something states should act on, but it's also something Congress could vote on right away.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, bottom line, Katherine Newman, if you were able to talk to the president directly, talk to the members of this commission directly, what would you say else needs to be done to make sure to do as much as possible to prevent school shootings?

  • Katherine Newman:

    We need to be sure that they support school resource officers, because they are effective means of entrapping information that we need in order to let responsible people know that a threat is on the way.

    We need to be sure there are responsible adults that students trust. We need to let students know that when they come forward, their concerns will be acted on confidentially, privately, but acted on for sure, because right now I think they really lack the confidence that that is going to happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Shannon Watts, what about you? What would you say to them needs to be done?

  • Shannon Watts:

    Look, we have about the same rates of mental illness as every other developed nation. Every nation is home to disgruntled teenagers.

    Only America allows them to acquire an arsenal and ammunition. We have to address this issue, which is easy access to guns in this country. And the president's plan doesn't even scratch the surface.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we know we're going to continue to talk about this issue as long as it is before the American people and as long as these kinds of school shootings take place.

    Thank you very much, Shannon Watts, Katherine Newman. Thank you.

  • Shannon Watts:

    Thank you.

  • Katherine Newman:

    Thank you.

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