March 12, 2018
There was a time when secretaries of education could focus on things like curriculum and better learning environments. Betsy DeVos would probably like to trade places with some of her predecessors when the job's biggest demands were raising national test scores -- not keeping children safe. Unfortunately for her and every other administrator in America, the world of education has changed -- and it now has a lot more to do with combatting violence than fighting mediocrity.
It's been almost a month since the latest wake-up call that something in America has gone terribly wrong. There are 17 more empty seats around dinner tables in Parkland, Florida, victims of a story that started in Columbine and continues to break hearts from Connecticut to Virginia Tech. In the days since a 19-year-old walked into the halls of his old school and started snuffing out the futures of so many innocent classmates, the entire nation has been grasping for solutions to spare other parents the unimaginable pain of losing a child. President Trump is a father too. And in the weeks since Florida's heartbreak, he's made it clear that he's willing to cross any aisle and consider any idea to make sure the evil that happened in Parkland doesn't happen again. At least as far as he can help it.
Over the weekend, the White House rolled out its newest plan for school safety. In it, DeVos explains, are a number of concrete steps the government and state leaders can take to harden their campuses against threats. As he's said since the beginning, President Trump thinks it's time to launch "rigorous firearms training" for teachers who volunteer to carry guns at school. "For those who are capable," Secretary DeVos told reporters on a conference call, "this is one solution that can and should be considered. Keep in mind that among the ranks of teachers are military veterans who have had extensive training. Every state and every community is going to address this issue in a different way." As the administration has reminded people, President Obama wanted to arm more people after the Sandy Hook tragedy -- but he focused on school resource officers, which, as we saw in Parkland, may not be as effective as highly-trained teachers themselves. What the White House doesn't want to do is take more guns away from school officials. "A gun-free zone to a maniac -- because they're all cowards -- a gun-free zone is, 'let's go in and let's attack, because bullets aren't coming back at us."
Another piece of the president's plan is establishing a Federal Commission on School Safety, which would be chaired by Secretary DeVos. The commission, administration officials say, would focus on several areas, like age restrictions for certain guns, entertainment ratings systems, violent video games, mental health treatment, funding for states to create threat assessment teams, and other recommendations. Apart from that, the president will keep the wheels in motion on tougher background checks, outlawing bump stocks, state-specific "risk protection orders," and a formal review of the FBI's tip line, which could (and should) have helped stop the attack in Parkland.
Fortunately, the president understands that these are important steps -- but hardly the only ones. "The president," assured Andrew Bremberg, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, "is determined to get to the root of the various societal issues that lead to violence in our country. No stone will be unturned." Like us, he knows that Americans are facing a deeper problem than guns or even federal and state cooperation. If we want to reduce violence, we have to rebuild the family. That means an honest conversation about how the past several years of religious intolerance and outright hostility has kept this nation from focusing on what's important. If Congress wants to stop these tragedies, then it has to start by encouraging the two things -- faith and family -- that can address the real problem: the human heart.
We can't use laws to do what only God can. We have to get back to a basic understanding of right and wrong. As President George Washington warned in his farewell address, morality cannot be maintained without religion. If we want to become a more honest and decent people, the kind who care about human worth and dignity, then we can talk about access to guns -- but we've also got to talk about access to God.
Nothing we do will matter if we don't acknowledge that America has lost its way. As my friend Ken Blackwell says, "You can't run faith out of the public square and not expect to have these sort of consequences." So let's protect our schools. Let's harden the targets. But let's work on softening hearts too.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.