School Climate & Safety

After 100 Days, Trump Pledge to End Gun-Free School Zones Is Unfulfilled

By Evie Blad — April 28, 2017 2 min read
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In his address to the National Rifle Association Friday, President Donald Trump did not mention schools or school shootings.

This may come as a surprise to some because Trump, the first sitting president to address the gun-rights group since Ronald Reagan, previously made a campaign pledge to end gun-free school zones “on day one.”

Approaching the 100th day of his presidency, that pledge remains unfulfilled. And, should Trump decide to carry out his promise, it would require cooperation from Congress to change existing laws on guns in schools.

“You know what a gun-free zone is for a sicko? That’s bait,” Trump told a Vermont campaign crowd last year, the same day President Barack Obama was speaking at a town hall event on gun violence.

My colleague Andrew Ujifusa wrote at the time:

Trump, who is leading national polls for the GOP presidential nomination, said that he would get rid of gun-free zones for schools on his first day as president. But he can’t do that on his own. The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act was signed into law by former President George H.W. Bush in 1990 after being introduced by former Sen. Joe Biden, a Democrat, who is now the vice president. The key provision of the law is that it prohibits an individual from knowingly possessing and discharging a firearm on school grounds or within 1,000 feet of school grounds, with certain exceptions. As a law signed by a president after being passed by Congress, the Gun-Free School Zones Act cannot be undone by executive order.

During her contentious confirmation hearings, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos became a target for late-night comedians and internet commentary when she was asked by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, if guns “have any place in schools.” DeVos said that decision is best be left to state and local decisionmakers.

DeVos referred to a school in rural Wyoming that had been mentioned earlier in the hearing. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., had noted this school had a special fence to protect it from grizzly bears.

“I think there I would imagine that there’s a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies,” she said.

In response to a separate question from Murphy, she said she would support Trump if he moved forward with his push to end gun-free zones.

Loosening restrictions on concealed carry in schools at the state and federal levels has been a recent focus of the NRA. And Trump’s and DeVos’ remarks stirred concern among educators who oppose such actions. As I wrote recently, educators have organized since Trump’s election to speak against state bills that would allow for armed teachers and school staff or remove restrictions on concealed carry in schools and on college campuses. Here’s an Education Week video from one of those educators, a Montana principal who survived a school shooting.

Photo: Drug and gun-free school zone signs in Phoenix, Ariz. --Matt York/AP-File

Related reading on guns in schools and school shootings:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.