In any other country in the world, the idea of arming teachers with guns in classrooms to protect children would be seen as the policy equivalent to random screaming. Yet in the United States, it’s an idea that now has support from President Donald Trump — who recently said that he’s willing to pay teachers “a little bit of a bonus” if necessary to arm and train them.
It’s feasible Trump and organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) genuinely think arming teachers is a good idea. But George Washington University political communications professor David Karpf has another potential explanation for why this is getting traction among supporters of gun rights: It’s a deliberate distraction.
Okay, allow me to be the cranky strategic political communication professor for a minute.— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
I've got some stuff to say about this ludicrous "arm the teachers" gambit. (1/?)
It's a ridiculous proposal. It's an unserious proposal. It's an offensive proposal.— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
And the thing is, that's the whole point. (2/?)
The NRA camp has a strategic problem right now, because the latest massacre happened to children who are (1) old enough to articulate political demands, (2) savvy enough to make those demands effectively, and (3) working nonstop to do something with this political moment. (3/?)— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
The NRA knows how to deflect conversations away from grieving parents and grieving communities. But the old "Mortal Kombat is ruining the young'uns, amirite" schtick isn't working when the kids can talk back and say "that's ridiculous. You're being ridiculous." (4/?)— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
The strategic logic of the gun lobby's response to these massacres is generally to deflect, delay, and wait for public attention to turn elsewhere. (hence "thoughts and prayers/now is not the time.")— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
That has been a tremendously effective strategy. (5/?)
It's an effective strategy because policy subsystems tend not to change during quiet times. If an advantaged interest group can wait out the storm of public attention, then it will regain its advantage. (6/?)— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
So that brings us back to "arm the teachers." THE WHOLE POINT of this garbage proposal is to deflect and delay. Rather than being forced to defend the gun show loophole and their opposition to the assault weapons ban, they need us to talk about *something else.* (7/?)— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
If they can make the conversation about arming teachers last a week or two, then they can duck the conversation about their indefensible positions. And then some other tragedy will probably happen. (Deporting the DREAMers, global war, etc.) (8/?)— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
The best response to this gambit is to ridicule-then-pivot.— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
"That's a stupid and unserious proposal, & we know they don't mean it because they haven't introduced it as actual legislation. There are real bills that congress can pass right now. Let's finally talk about them. 9/?
Probably the best moment in last night's town hall was when Cameron Kasky asked Rubio to pledge not to take NRA money. That's a meaningful line in the sand, and it sets the terms of the debate moving forward. The NRA is toxic, politicians should reject their toxic donations. 10/?— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
Make that the demand. Make renewing the assault weapons ban the demand. Make closing the absurd loopholes the demand.— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
When the NRA and Trump try to deflect the debate over to fantasy-school-hero daydreams, ridicule them and then pivot. Don't let that become the new debate. 11/?
The dead, their families, and their classmates deserve better than this ridiculous, offensive, unworkable arm-the-teachers fantasy. The American public deserves better than this. But understand that running out the clock by deflecting the conversation is the *whole point.* (12/?)— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
Don't try to win the argument that the NRA and Trump have decided to have.— davekarpf (@davekarpf) February 23, 2018
This time, WE are going to set the terms of the debate. (end)
It’s impossible to say what is truly in the NRA and Trump’s hearts and minds here or what their motivations could be. But it’s true that the discussion over arming teachers pushes the debate in the favor of those who want to keep the status quo of lax gun laws.
As we all concentrate on this, we leave aside other issues that the NRA would rather not talk about — from universal background checks to gun bans to confiscation schemes like Australia’s. So the ridiculous discussion sucks up the oxygen during the few weeks in which there’s a window to do something about guns, nothing happens, and the current situation remains.
This is also true about the focus on mental health care. Every time there’s a mass shooting, gun rights activists — including Republicans and the NRA — argue that the real problem behind mass shootings is the shooter’s mental health. As my colleague Dylan Matthews explained, that’s a very questionable claim — given that the US doesn’t have a monopoly on mental health issues but does have a monopoly on tremendous levels of gun ownership.
But even if you accept the premise that mental health is a major driver of America’s gun problem, with the exception of some individual lawmakers, Republicans are not the party proposing big boosts to mental health care in the US.
Quite the opposite: They spent much of last year trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), which expanded access to mental health care by getting people insurance that would pay for it. Trump’s budget in particular wouldn’t just eliminate Obamacare, it would also slash funding to other mental health programs — with the National Institute of Mental Health in particular seeing a 30 percent reduction in funding.
So why else would Republicans and the NRA bring up mental health? Because it lets them shift the conversation from guns. So, again, in the few weeks there’s a discussion over this issue, they can stay away from the topics that could lead to changes they don’t like.
We see this again and again. And it works. So the US continues doing little to nothing on guns, and horrific tragedies keep happening.