Why Trump’s latest position on guns is a small step in the right direction

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    As part of his new school safety plan, Donald Trump called on states to pass laws creating ‘extreme risk protection orders.’

    Donald Trump’s strategy for preventing school shootings includes the lurid policies of arming school teachers with guns and “hardening” schools against attack. But while the president backed away from raising age limits for buying some guns on Sunday, the president is also endorsing some policies with scientific evidence behind them – a small sign of progress in America’s deadlocked gun control debate.

    As part of his new school safety plan, Trump called on states to pass laws creating “extreme risk protection orders”, a new kind of gun control measure that has been gathering increasing support from Republicans since the Florida shooting.

    Five years ago, after the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school, mental health experts and gun violence researchers came together to discuss what it would mean to prevent mass shootings in a data-driven way, and without stigmatizing people with mental illness.

    One of their major proposals was the creation of this new kind of restraining order, which would give law enforcement officials the authority to temporarily confiscate firearms from people at risk of harming themselves or other people.

    Many of America’s gun control policies are designed to prevent horrific mass shootings, rather than the everyday gun violence that claims the majority of lives. More than 50 Americans die each day from gun suicide, a toll that represents about two-thirds of America’s total gun deaths.

    Too often, America’s gun debate moves in circles, arguing whether one policy or another would have prevented the most recent high-profile shooting, rather than which policy would do the most good overall. Policies that would have very little relevance to America’s broader gun violence problem – like the fight over banning bump stocks after Las Vegas, or the fight over whether to bar people on terror watch lists from owning guns after Orlando – get outsized national attention.

    Extreme risk protection orders break this pattern. A study from Connecticut found evidence that a temporary gun removal law there prevented suicides. Advocates argue that the laws will also give law enforcement a crucial tool to remove guns from people like the Parkland shooter, who were demonstrating clear, repeated risk signs of violence.

    The extreme risk protection order policy gained traction after a 2014 attack against a sorority and other college students in Isla Vista, California. Family members of the 22-year-old shooter had flagged his disturbing online posts to local law enforcement, who had performed a welfare check on him in his apartment, but found nothing of concern.

    California passed an extreme risk protection order law in 2014, and Washington and Oregon followed suit. Florida created extreme risk protection orders last week as part of a compromise package of gun bills endorsed by the parents of the victims of the Parkland shooting in Florida.

    The policy received a boost after the Parkland shooting from conservative writer David French, who labeled extreme risk protection orders “A Gun-Control Measure Conservatives Should Consider,” in a widely-shared article in the National Review, a conservative journal. French argued that the policy empowered ordinary citizens to take action to prevent gun violence – a more conservative approach than simply passing stricter gun laws that government officials might fail to properly enforce.

    Trump’s endorsement will give Republican legislators cover to support passing the laws at the state level – a potentially significant boost to bipartisan support for these bills, said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, who has been leading the push for extreme risk protection orders.

    “We think all 50 states need to have this law,” he said. “There’s still so much more that we need to do, but where there is agreement, we want to get these things done.”

    Trump also endorsed congressional funding for more evidence-based school violence prevention strategies, which would include a series of training programs developed by family members of Sandy Hook victims.

    “In order to be effective, violence prevention should be informed by educational research,” said Dewey Cornell, one of America’s leading school safety experts.

    He called Trump’s support for funding the measure “a major step forward” in encouraging schools to use evidence-based methods, rather than trying to fortify school buildings against attack.

    “It is great to see more attention to preventing violence rather than just preparing for the next shooting,” Cornell wrote in an e-mail.


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