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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman July 15, 2020

Trump has made scant progress on eliminating gun-free zones

President Donald Trump criticized the policy of gun-free school zones after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.

"If schools are mandated to be gun free zones, violence and danger are given an open invitation to enter. Almost all school shootings are in gun free zones. Cowards will only go where there is no deterrent!" Trump tweeted one month after the Parkland, Fla., shooting that killed 17 people.

Trump had promised during his 2016 campaign to eliminate gun-free zones at schools, as well as on military bases. On the school part of his promise, legislation stalled. The situation on military bases is more murky, because it varies depending upon the base.

Gun-Free School Zone federal law remains in effect

The Crime Control Act of 1990 sponsored by then-Sen. Joe Biden imposed criminal penalties for possession of a firearm in a school zone, with certain exceptions.

During Trump's tenure, bills to repeal the federal law that created gun-free zones stalled without a vote.

However, most states make some exceptions to their own bans on guns in K-12 schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. For example, following the Parkland shooting, the Florida Legislature passed a law to allow school districts the option to arm teachers.

Each military branch can set their own rules on firearms

President Barack Obama's administration took a step toward eliminating gun-free zones on military bases before Trump took office.

A 2016 Defense Department directive said commanders may grant permission to personnel requesting to carry a privately owned firearm on department property for a "personal protection purpose not related to performance of an official duty or status."

Post commanders generally determine their own regulations for the bases they oversee, but many locations don't allow personal firearms, reported Military.com. Troops living in barracks must typically register their personal firearms and store them in a base storage facility.

The policy varies across military branches, we found.

Marines: On the last day of 2019, the Marines issued a new rule authorizing certain Marines to carry concealed privately owned firearms on Marines property for personal protection. The policy followed shootings? aboard Naval Base Hawaii and Naval Air Station Pensacola in December.

Coast Guard: The Coast Guard has not announced a new policy regarding who can carry firearms during the Trump administration. Members are prohibited from carrying a loaded and privately owned weapon on Coast Guard facilities in a non-official capacity. 

Navy: The Navy's current guidance does not allow carrying of firearms for personal protection, although a 2019 policy says eligible personnel may get authorization.

Army: The Army is currently updating its policy. The 2019 version states that the carrying of privately owned weapons on Army installations is prohibited unless authorized by the senior commander who has the responsibility to regulate privately owned weapons.

Air Force: The Air Force allows a commander to selectively arm personnel in their workplace with a government-issued firearm. 

The Trump administration proposed a regulation to allow firearms possession on Army Corps of Engineers recreational land, said David Kopel, an expert on firearms policy and research director at the Independence Institute. 

Our ruling

Trump did not eliminate gun-free zones at schools. The rules on military bases about carrying personal firearms vary, but we didn't see significant movement toward ending gun-free zones. We rate this Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Congress.gov, Crime Control Act of 1990, Nov. 29, 1990

Congress.gov, Safe Students Act of 2017 and 2019

Congress.gov, H.R.5301 - To amend title 18, United States Code, to permit certain individuals complying with State law to possess firearms, Dec. 4, 2019

Military.com, Can You Carry a Gun on a Military Base? Dec. 6, 2019

U.S. Army, Regulation about firearms, Jan. 17, 2019

U.S. Navy, Navy Physical Security and Law Enforcement Program Requirements, 2009

Marines, Press release about firearms, Dec. 31, 2019

David Kopel in the National Review, Trump Must Not Break His Promises to Gun-Rights Supporters, Aug. 16, 2019

NRA, Statement to PolitiFact, June 18, 2020

Email interview, Stacey Radnor, Everytown for Gun Safety spokeswoman, June 3, 2020

Statement from the NRA to PolitiFact, June 18, 2020

Email interview, Navy LT Brittany Stephens, June 25, 2020

Email interview, Lt Col Uriah L. Orland, a Department of Defense spokesperson, June 22, 2020

Email interview, Laura M. McAndrews, Air Force spokesperson, June 29, 2020

Email interview, LTC Robin L. Ochoa, U.S. Army spokesperson, June 22, 2020

Email interview, LT Brittany Panetta, U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson, June 18, 2020

Email interview, David Kopel, Independence Institute research director, June 25, 2020

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson February 15, 2018

Bill that would ease gun-carrying rights in schools passed House in December

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to eliminate gun-free zones at schools and military bases.

One thing we should clarify right off the bat: The Pentagon actually eased rules for carrying guns on military bases before President Barack Obama left office.

A Defense Department directive released on Nov. 18, 2016, said that commanders "may grant permission to (Defense Department) personnel requesting to carry a privately owned firearm (concealed or open carry) on DoD property for a personal protection purpose not related to performance of an official duty or status."

That doesn't go quite as far as Trump suggested, but it still represented a significant easing of the rules. However, since it occurred before Trump took office, we'll primarily rate this promise based on any changes during Trump's presidency that affect gun free zones in schools.

As we noted in our previous update, there have been some legislative efforts in this area.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., introduced a bill, the Safe Students Act, in the House to repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, on Jan. 3, 2017.

Nine days later, the House referred the bill to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations. However, there have been no further developments on the bill since then. More strikingly, the bill has garnered only a total of five cosponsors in the succeeding year, all of them Republicans. In fact, no lawmaker has signed on as a cosponsor since early February 2017.

A more successful legislative push came from the the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017.

The headline provision of the bill would to allow qualified individuals to carry a concealed handgun into, or possess a concealed handgun in, another state as long as that state allows individuals to carry concealed firearms.

However, the impact of the law on the elements of Trump's promise is somewhat less sweeping.

Broadly, the bill says it would not supersede the laws of any state that restricts "the possession of firearms on any state or local government property, installation, building, base, or park."

Moreover, on the specific question of gun-carry rights in schools, the bill limits carrying rights to an "off-duty law enforcement officer" or a "qualified retired law enforcement officer" who is "authorized under such section to carry a concealed firearm."

On Dec. 6, 2017, the bill passed the House by a 231-198 margin. Only 14 Republicans voted against the bill, while just six Democrats voted for it.

After passage, the bill went to the Senate, where it was assigned to the Judiciary Committee. It has not yet advanced any further.

The fact that the House passed a bill that would loosen -- though not do away with -- gun restrictions in schools leads us to keep this promise at In the Works.

Our Sources

Gabrielle Healy
By Gabrielle Healy April 20, 2017

Bills introduced on congressional level

President Donald Trump vowed to eliminate gun-free zones on schools and military bases on his first day in office.

More than three months in, we haven't seen any movement on this promise from the executive branch.

When a reporter asked about it on Feb. 1, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had been "very active in terms of getting executive orders out."

"We're going to continue to move through this process, and I think we'll have further updates on where we are with respect to the rest of the EO process," he said.

There has been some interest on the congressional level.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., introduced a bill, the Safe Students Act, in the House to repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, on Jan. 3.

On Jan. 12, the House referred the bill to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, and there's been no further developments on the bill since then.

Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., also introduced a bill, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, that would allow gun owners to conceal and carry weapons in any public spaces that allow guns, regardless of their state residency.

A provision of that bill could undo part of the current law that creates gun-free zones in schools because it would exempt concealed carry permit holders from that law, according to The Trace.

The guns in schools issue also came up during Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' confirmation hearing. She suggested that an elementary school in rural Wyoming might need guns to protect students from external threats, like grizzly bears, so the decision to have firearms should be left up to local lawmakers. Wyoming has a policy banning weapons in elementary, middle and high school.

As we reported, eliminating gun-free zones in these areas represents a challenging endeavor, due in part to the confluence of federal and state laws that protect these areas.

We rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

Allison Graves
By Allison Graves January 20, 2017

Eliminate gun free zones at schools and military bases

Donald Trump has pledged to eliminate gun-free zones on his first day in office in order to keep the United States safe from mass shootings but it won't be easy.

"I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools, and — you have to — and on military bases," Trump said Jan. 8, 2016, at a rally in Burlington, Vt. "My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day. There's no more gun-free zones."

Trump clarified his original statement about carrying guns to schools on May 23,  telling CNN that resource officers or trained teachers should be the ones carrying guns.

It's highly unlikely Trump will be able to do this on his first day in office because of the overlapping federal, state and local laws that dictate gun-free zones.

WHY HE'S PROMISING IT

Trump says eliminating gun-free zones in schools and military bases could prevent mass shootings.

"You know what a gun-free zone is to a sicko?" Trump asked the Vermont crowd. "That's bait!"

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

In order to chip away at the federal laws, Trump would need Congress' help. But even this would only be one step of many.

In 1990, former Sen. Joe Biden introduced legislation known as the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990, which was included as a section in the Crime Control Act of 1990.

The gun-free zone initiative prohibited individuals having or taking out a gun within 1,000 feet of public or private school grounds. Congress passed the act, and it was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.

The Supreme Court struck down the gun-free zone act in 1995, after it decided the legislation encroached on states' rights. But, the act was quickly changed, and an amended version was adopted in the section of the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997.

Congress would have to repeal the most current "gun-free zone act," or pass a bill that would eliminate the restrictions. Even if that happened, it would only be a step in the right direction, not a complete victory for Trump.

"I think it highly unlikely that Congress will move to repeal this law," said Robert Spitzer, a SUNY Cortland political science professor. "The gun lobby has other, higher priorities (No. 1 is the state handgun permit reciprocity bill)."

Trump also could encourage agencies not to enforce the current laws on the book, work with Congress to pass legislation to weaken the law, but not repeal it, or encourage private civilian gun carrying like he did during his campaign.
 

WHAT'S STANDING IN HIS WAY

Trump's efforts to slash regulations and laws that govern gun-free zones will be an uphill battle. Rules that prohibit guns in school zones are written into federal law and would require Congress to overturn the law. In addition, states have their own regulations and laws against firearms in schools.

"Theoretically, Congress could try and wipe away all these state provisions, but it would be a logistical, political and legal nightmare that would also upend traditional federalism standards," Spitzer said.

John Lott, president of the pro-gun Crime Prevention Research Center, said federal legislation has pre-empted state rules before, meaning there is plenty of precedent for rules to be passed federally. That being said, Congress hasn't introduced any bills.

"None of the bills so far being offered by Republicans on reciprocity currently propose changes in federal law to override state rules on where one can carry a permit," Lott said. "Yet, it is surely possible for those bills to be changed."

And, as for military bases, that's basically out of Trump's control. The Department of Defense mandates the gun-free rule, so at best he could convince the defense secretary to reverse the rule, but that's unlikely, too.

TIMELINE

Trump says he can accomplish this on his first day in office, but given everything that would need to be done, this seems unlikely.

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