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Politics In The News: Federal Commission On School Safety


Weeks after a school shooting left 17 people dead, the White House has announced the start of a new federal commission on school safety. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will lead it. She talked with reporters about that yesterday.


BETSY DEVOS: In advancing this plan, we are committed to working quickly because there's no time to waste. No student, no family, no teacher and no school should have to live the horror of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine again.

KING: The administration also offered a couple of policy recommendations, including training teachers to use firearms and giving law enforcement greater ability to temporarily take guns away from people who are dangerous to themselves or others. Joining us to discuss all this is Charles Cooke. He's editor of National Review Online.

Good morning, Charles.

CHARLES COOKE: Good morning.

KING: So, Charles, when you were on MORNING EDITION earlier this month, you very memorably described the president's stand on gun policy as - and I quote - "entirely incoherent." Does this plan that the White House released yesterday change your mind at all?

COOKE: No. I don't think it's his plan. I think this is probably what can pass Washington. He's had enough time to work that out. He's likely been told that by Paul Ryan and by Mitch McConnell. I'm not sure it's the product of any personal thought on his behalf. He's not somebody who has coherent views on firearms. He's changed his mind a number of times. But he's also not entirely irrational and has probably learned what the status quo is.

KING: Well, what do you make of the proposals - improved background checks, training teachers to use guns?

COOKE: I think improving background checks is a good idea. I also think the Cornyn-Murphy bill, which tries to fix the NICS background check system, should be included in this proposal. I certainly think that restraining orders, some sort of increased latitude for police to deal with people who make threats or are deemed to be a threat, providing there is adequate due process, is a good idea. The question of teachers in schools being armed...

KING: Not uncontroversial, yeah.

COOKE: Well, no. And I think it really depends how you do it. I think that if you have a concealed carry permit, there is no good reason not to allow you to carry it at a school. And concealed carriers, the data we have from Texas and Florida shows, are not only more law-abiding than the average citizen but are actually quite a lot more law-abiding than the police. The problem we have in America is not with concealed carriers with permits shooting people. I think where it gets tricky, and certainly where I start to oppose it, is where people are being asked to do things that they don't want to do. And I certainly would not want a single teacher in this country to feel obliged to carry a gun if they didn't want to.

KING: One thing that was left out of this proposal is raising the age limit on buying guns. Do you think that this commission will eventually have to address that?

COOKE: I think you're going to see that down at the state level, if it's done at all. It's not a proposal I like. I understand why it was done here. We always want to fight the last battle. And the person who murdered those 17 people was 19. I think federally that would be a hard sell and probably should be. But I would not be surprised at all if you saw a whole host of states now raise the age for buying rifles.

KING: You know, I wonder. As a conservative, are you worried that these proposals might mean an awful lot of federal interference in public schools and into people's mental health histories, which they might like to keep private?

COOKE: I am, yes. I think, generally, I like to see policy made at the state level, and I wrote a book about this. There is a role for the federal government when it comes to imports and exports, resolving disputes between the states and if there is anything that cannot be done locally. But that isn't the case here. And I don't think it is necessarily true that Montana needs the same gun laws as New York City.

KING: I wonder if President Trump partially agrees with you. He spoke at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania over the weekend, and he kind of sneered at the idea that federal commissions are a way to confront serious problems. Is he undercutting this federal safety commission before it even gets started?

COOKE: Well, I think he is, and I think that's another example of what I was saying is he doesn't stay on message. He doesn't have a consistent or coherent view of this. That said, there are much more thoughtful critics who make that point, and I do think that there is a lot to that. This is an extraordinarily complex and difficult problem. It's also worth saying - without being callous - what happened was horrendous; I live in Florida - that this is very, very, very rare. And trying to work out what to do should be done carefully and over time, I think, and not necessarily from the center.

KING: Charles, in the couple seconds we have left, I have to ask you, what do you make of President Trump agreeing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un?

COOKE: (Laughter) I think it's a remarkable moment. Nothing has worked for 40 years. I have no faith that this will, but I see no particular problem in trying.

KING: All right. Charles Cooke is the editor of the National Review Online. Charles, thank you so much.

COOKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.