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US Senate Advances Criminal Justice Reform

The U.S. Senate advanced a bipartisan bill Monday that would decrease America’s large prison population by lowering some mandatory federal sentences and giving prisoners added opportunities to earn reductions in jail time.

With the 82-12 procedural vote, the Senate formally took up the First Step Act, which is backed by President Donald Trump but has fewer than two weeks to reach his desk before the end of the current Congress.

“This landmark legislation restores fairness in sentencing by ensuring that penalties fit their crimes, gives low-level, non-violent offenders a better chance to turn over a new leaf upon release from prison, and ultimately reduces crime and makes our streets and neighborhoods safer,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in a statement.

“These historic changes will make communities SAFER and SAVE tremendous taxpayers dollars,” Trump tweeted. “It brings much needed hope to many families during the Holiday Season.”

The First Step Act would retroactively end the discrepancy in federal sentences for drug offenses involving crack and the powder form of cocaine, reducing jail time for thousands of prisoners already serving time for crack offenses.

The bill also would reduce some mandatory sentences, give federal judges more flexibility to make exceptions to mandatory prison terms, and allow prisoners to earn greater sentence reductions through good behavior and vocational training.

“The vast majority of prison inmates will one day be released back into our communities after serving their sentence,” Grassley said. “It is in everyone’s best interest to equip inmates with the skills and training needed to be become productive citizens, rather than returning to a life of crime.”

Proponents say the bill aims to correct a failed 1980s-era attempt to deter illegal drug use that established long mandatory prison sentences for drug convictions.

“Since 1980, the federal prison population has grown by over 700 percent,” Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said. “Today, the United States of America holds more prisoners by far than any country in the world, more than Russia or China.”

Durbin added that existing law has unfairly targeted people of color, saying, “The majority of illegal drug users and dealers in America are white. But three-quarters of the people serving time in prison for drug offenses are African-American or Latino.”

The House of Representatives passed a similar version of the bill earlier this year. Now, the Senate is racing to complete work on the legislation before the chamber adjourns for the Christmas holiday.

Criticism of bill

The First Step Act has robust but not universal Senate support in its current form. Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton is demanding the bill stipulate that some prisoners will be barred from early release.

“Unfortunately, the bill still has major problems & allows early release for many categories of serious, violent criminals,” Cotton tweeted. “This includes felons who commit violent bank robberies with dangerous weapons, who assault children, & who commit carjacking with the intent to cause death.”

Cotton and several other Republicans are pressing an amendment that would specify which offenders are ineligible for sentence reductions, something that proponents of the First Step Act say the bill already sets forth.

“This bill will not allow dangerous, violent criminals to be released early — that [assertion] is pure fiction,” said the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas. “It’s important that we look at people who are low risk of recidivism [committing more crimes] and low risk to public safety, because what we can do is use the resources — not to keep people like that behind bars unnecessarily — but to focus on the truly violent criminals.”

America’s prison population exceeds 2 million people, and incarceration consumes vast resources within the nation’s justice system. Even if it becomes law, the First Step Act would have a modest impact on incarceration numbers, as the bill only applies to federal inmates, who account for less than 10 percent of the national total. Other initiatives seek to achieve similar results at the state level.

Support for bill

A wide array of law enforcement organizations support the bill, as do both right-leaning and left-leaning advocacy groups.

Durbin hailed “the most extraordinary political coalition I’ve ever witnessed in the time I’ve been in Washington” joining forces to back the legislation.

“Every once in a while, the stars line up, and the Democrats and the Republicans, and the conservatives and the progressives, and the president and the Congress agree on something,” the Illinois Democrat said.

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Partial US Government Shutdown Looms

A quarter of U.S. government operations could shut down Friday at midnight unless the White House and lawmakers agree on a new spending plan, including whether to fund President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart illegal immigration.

Spending for three-fourths of the government has already been approved through next September, but the remaining bills include 2019 funding for the Department of Homeland Security, and possible money for the wall, a favorite Trump campaign vow while campaigning for the presidency in 2016.

But the $5 billion down payment Trump wants for the $20 billion wall is adamantly opposed by Democrats and some Republicans, leaving its fate in doubt. Democrats have offered a maximum of $1.6 billion, for enhanced border security, not specifically for the wall. 

Trump last week said he would proudly shut down the government if money is not included for his wall. But to avert a Friday shutdown he also could reach agreement on some kind of stopgap spending plan to carry all government operations through the end of this year and into 2019. Aside from Homeland Security, funding is at stake for the State Department, the Department of Justice and the Interior Department.

In a meeting last week at the White House, Trump told the top two Democratic congressional leaders, House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, that he would be happy to take responsibility for a government shutdown rather than give up any ground on the border wall issue.

​If the government is forced into a partial shutdown, it could be short, like the two that took place early this year — the first lasted three days, and the second lasted only about six hours. 

Or it could resemble the longest shutdown in U.S. history, which started December 16, 1995, and ended 21 days later. The second longest occurred in October 2013, when the government closed for 16 days, costing it $2.5 billion in wages and benefits to workers who were not allowed to do their jobs because they were furloughed, according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

Results of a shutdown

With each shutdown come questions about what federal services will and will not be provided. Generally, agencies or offices funded by service fees, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, can continue their work, so the shutdown would not affect naturalization interviews or citizenship ceremonies. 

In a new shutdown, about 380,000 federal workers could be furloughed.

National parks have shut down in the past, but during the shutdowns earlier this year, the head of the Office of Budget and Management, Mick Mulvaney, pledged that they would be kept open.

​Experts say the Internal Revenue Service may not be able to process tax refunds. Health safety inspections could be stalled. Most employees at the U.S. space agency NASA would likely be furloughed and might not get paid for that time, although Congress usually grants pay retroactively after a shutdown is over.

About 420,000 federal workers are deemed “essential” and are expected to remain on the job.

Voice of America continues to broadcast, and air traffic controllers are usually expected to keep working — along with FBI agents, members of the Transportation Security Administration, and the Secret Service agents that protect the president. Like the furloughed workers, they may not see any pay until after the shutdown concludes.

The Friday deadline is the result of a spending agreement Congress reached in September and the death of a former president. 

The September measure set a December 7 deadline for passing the seven spending bills that remain outstanding. That deadline was pushed back two weeks after the death November 30 of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, whose funeral ceremonies were held the following week.

In one more possible hurdle, Schumer has indicated that the Democrats might block the spending bill unless Congress also approves a bill protecting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump 2016 campaign links to Russia and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

A looming shutdown is not expected to affect the investigation because it is funded with an appropriation that does not require renewal.

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Partial US Government Shutdown Looms

A quarter of U.S. government operations could shut down Friday at midnight unless the White House and lawmakers agree on a new spending plan, including whether to fund President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart illegal immigration.

Spending for three-fourths of the government has already been approved through next September, but the remaining bills include 2019 funding for the Department of Homeland Security, and possible money for the wall, a favorite Trump campaign vow while campaigning for the presidency in 2016.

But the $5 billion down payment Trump wants for the $20 billion wall is adamantly opposed by Democrats and some Republicans, leaving its fate in doubt. Democrats have offered a maximum of $1.6 billion, for enhanced border security, not specifically for the wall. 

Trump last week said he would proudly shut down the government if money is not included for his wall. But to avert a Friday shutdown he also could reach agreement on some kind of stopgap spending plan to carry all government operations through the end of this year and into 2019. Aside from Homeland Security, funding is at stake for the State Department, the Department of Justice and the Interior Department.

In a meeting last week at the White House, Trump told the top two Democratic congressional leaders, House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, that he would be happy to take responsibility for a government shutdown rather than give up any ground on the border wall issue.

​If the government is forced into a partial shutdown, it could be short, like the two that took place early this year — the first lasted three days, and the second lasted only about six hours. 

Or it could resemble the longest shutdown in U.S. history, which started December 16, 1995, and ended 21 days later. The second longest occurred in October 2013, when the government closed for 16 days, costing it $2.5 billion in wages and benefits to workers who were not allowed to do their jobs because they were furloughed, according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

Results of a shutdown

With each shutdown come questions about what federal services will and will not be provided. Generally, agencies or offices funded by service fees, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, can continue their work, so the shutdown would not affect naturalization interviews or citizenship ceremonies. 

In a new shutdown, about 380,000 federal workers could be furloughed.

National parks have shut down in the past, but during the shutdowns earlier this year, the head of the Office of Budget and Management, Mick Mulvaney, pledged that they would be kept open.

​Experts say the Internal Revenue Service may not be able to process tax refunds. Health safety inspections could be stalled. Most employees at the U.S. space agency NASA would likely be furloughed and might not get paid for that time, although Congress usually grants pay retroactively after a shutdown is over.

About 420,000 federal workers are deemed “essential” and are expected to remain on the job.

Voice of America continues to broadcast, and air traffic controllers are usually expected to keep working — along with FBI agents, members of the Transportation Security Administration, and the Secret Service agents that protect the president. Like the furloughed workers, they may not see any pay until after the shutdown concludes.

The Friday deadline is the result of a spending agreement Congress reached in September and the death of a former president. 

The September measure set a December 7 deadline for passing the seven spending bills that remain outstanding. That deadline was pushed back two weeks after the death November 30 of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, whose funeral ceremonies were held the following week.

In one more possible hurdle, Schumer has indicated that the Democrats might block the spending bill unless Congress also approves a bill protecting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump 2016 campaign links to Russia and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

A looming shutdown is not expected to affect the investigation because it is funded with an appropriation that does not require renewal.

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Report to Senate: Russia Used Every Major Social Media Platform to Help Trump Win

A draft report prepared for the U.S. Senate, and seen by the Washington Post, says Russia used every major social media platform to target voters with misinformation to try to get Donald Trump elected president.

The Post said Sunday the report was done by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis firm Graphika.

The report says Russians working for a group called The Internet Research Agency (IRA) began experimenting with social media to influence local elections in 2009 and expanded its operations to U.S. elections in 2013 using Twitter.

It gradually added other popular social media sites to its campaign, including YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

For the 2016 presidential campaign, the report says Russians attempted to stir up conservative voters to back Trump by stressing such issues as gun rights and immigration.

At the same time, the Russian operatives sent black voters messages and other information aimed at confusing them about the electoral process, including misleading information on how to vote.

​Other groups, such as liberals, women, Muslims, Latinos, and veterans, were also targeted with similar messages either appealing to their politics or trying to discourage them from voting.

“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party and specifically Donald Trump,” the report says according to The Washington Post. 

The newspaper says the report criticizes technology companies for what it calls their “belated and uncoordinated response” when the misinformation campaign was discovered and their delay in sharing information with investigators.

The report also warns that social media is morphing from what it says are tools for “sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement,” including in the Middle East, to threats to democracy from “canny political consultants” and “politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike.”

The Post says Facebook and Google have not commented on the report. But Twitter says it has made “significant strides since the 2016 election to harden its digital defenses.”

The United States has already leveled criminal charges against Russia’s Internet Research Agency for interfering in the 2016 campaign. 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election and whether the president has tried to obstruct justice by trying to undermine the probe.

Trump denies there was any collusion and calls the Mueller probe a “witch hunt.”

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Report to Senate: Russia Used Every Major Social Media Platform to Help Trump Win

A draft report prepared for the U.S. Senate, and seen by the Washington Post, says Russia used every major social media platform to target voters with misinformation to try to get Donald Trump elected president.

The Post said Sunday the report was done by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis firm Graphika.

The report says Russians working for a group called The Internet Research Agency (IRA) began experimenting with social media to influence local elections in 2009 and expanded its operations to U.S. elections in 2013 using Twitter.

It gradually added other popular social media sites to its campaign, including YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

For the 2016 presidential campaign, the report says Russians attempted to stir up conservative voters to back Trump by stressing such issues as gun rights and immigration.

At the same time, the Russian operatives sent black voters messages and other information aimed at confusing them about the electoral process, including misleading information on how to vote.

​Other groups, such as liberals, women, Muslims, Latinos, and veterans, were also targeted with similar messages either appealing to their politics or trying to discourage them from voting.

“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party and specifically Donald Trump,” the report says according to The Washington Post. 

The newspaper says the report criticizes technology companies for what it calls their “belated and uncoordinated response” when the misinformation campaign was discovered and their delay in sharing information with investigators.

The report also warns that social media is morphing from what it says are tools for “sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement,” including in the Middle East, to threats to democracy from “canny political consultants” and “politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike.”

The Post says Facebook and Google have not commented on the report. But Twitter says it has made “significant strides since the 2016 election to harden its digital defenses.”

The United States has already leveled criminal charges against Russia’s Internet Research Agency for interfering in the 2016 campaign. 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election and whether the president has tried to obstruct justice by trying to undermine the probe.

Trump denies there was any collusion and calls the Mueller probe a “witch hunt.”

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Saudi Arabia Rejects US Senate Position on Khashoggi

Saudi Arabia has hit back at a U.S. Senate resolution to end U.S. military support for the war in Yemen and blame the Saudi crown prince for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“The Kingdom condemns the latest position of the U.S. Senate that was based on unsubstantiated allegations and rejects the blatant interference in its internal affairs,” the foreign ministry said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The Senate delivered a rare double rebuke to U.S. President Donald Trump on Saudi Arabia last week, voting to end American military support for the war in Yemen.

It also condemned Khashoggi’s death and called Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, “responsible” for it.

Riyadh warned that it would not tolerate any “disrespect” of its rulers. “This position by the U.S. Senate sends the wrong messages to all those who want to cause a rift in Saudi-U.S. relationship,” the Saudi ministry said.

The Senate resolution acknowledged that the U.S.-Saudi relations were “important,” but it called on the kingdom to “moderate its increasingly erratic foreign policy.”

Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, was killed Oct. 2 shortly after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in what Riyadh has called a “rogue” operation.

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Saudi Arabia Rejects US Senate Position on Khashoggi

Saudi Arabia has hit back at a U.S. Senate resolution to end U.S. military support for the war in Yemen and blame the Saudi crown prince for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“The Kingdom condemns the latest position of the U.S. Senate that was based on unsubstantiated allegations and rejects the blatant interference in its internal affairs,” the foreign ministry said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The Senate delivered a rare double rebuke to U.S. President Donald Trump on Saudi Arabia last week, voting to end American military support for the war in Yemen.

It also condemned Khashoggi’s death and called Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, “responsible” for it.

Riyadh warned that it would not tolerate any “disrespect” of its rulers. “This position by the U.S. Senate sends the wrong messages to all those who want to cause a rift in Saudi-U.S. relationship,” the Saudi ministry said.

The Senate resolution acknowledged that the U.S.-Saudi relations were “important,” but it called on the kingdom to “moderate its increasingly erratic foreign policy.”

Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, was killed Oct. 2 shortly after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in what Riyadh has called a “rogue” operation.

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Pistol-Packing Teachers Becoming More Common in Arkansas

Dale Cresswell keeps his gun on his hip at all times: in his classroom, at sporting events, whenever he’s at school.

Cresswell, head coach to the senior boys’ track and cross-country teams, is one of a small, but growing group of teachers around the United States who are volunteering to carry a weapon. His employer, Heber Springs School District, just came online this semester.

“It was a no-brainer. I have a daughter still in school,” said Cresswell of his decision, acknowledging that he might know any potential shooter. “I see it as, I’m protecting more than one person. I’m protecting all the other students.”

Tests and training

In order to qualify, Cresswell and other faculty, including administrators and IT professionals who can move around more easily, underwent background checks and psychological tests. They continue to go through rigorous training.

“I know that last summer there was a big movement here. We were fortunate that we had made the decision early, and we were able to secure trainers and get our time slot locked in,” said Heber Springs School District Superintendent Alan Stauffacher, noting that some other schools are “struggling” to get set up.

A semester in, the novelty of Cresswell carrying a weapon has worn off. He said that when asked, the students tell him they don’t even notice his gun anymore.

​Sandy Hook 

While there appears to have been no law prohibiting it, guns were rarely carried by teachers in Arkansas schools before a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the northeastern U.S. state of Connecticut in 2012.

That incident prompted David Hopkins, superintendent of the Clarksville Public Schools in Clarksville, Arkansas, to begin searching for more effective ways to protect his students.

“It was just so terrible. Something like that, it makes you really pause,” Hopkins said. “I started getting calls from parents and grandparents asking, ‘What are you doing to protect our kids?’”

At that time, Hopkins wondered whether what he had in mind — arming faculty across each school in the district — was even legal. Since then, he has counseled other Arkansan schools as they follow suit.

“It’s not like we want to be cowboys, but if you stop and think about the reality of someone coming into your business or your school, don’t you want to be prepared?” he asked.

Protecting schools, students

Protecting schools from future shootings has increasingly occupied administrators and lawmakers’ time. Just this year, 113 people were killed or injured in school shootings in the U.S.

After the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson tasked a committee with studying how to prevent future school shootings.

Their report, released earlier this month, stressed that individual schools need to make decisions for themselves, but recommended that “no campus should ever be without an armed presence when staff and children are attending class or a major extracurricular activity.”

A study published by Vice News in March found that at least 14 of the 50 states arm teachers and another 16 allow local school boards to decide on the issue.

But while Cresswell and Hopkins believe arming teachers serves as a deterrent for gun violence, not everyone agrees.

Following the Safety Commission report, Moms Demand Action stated that “putting guns in the hands of teachers is not the answer…” and that “research indicates that arming teachers will make children less safe.”

“As a general rule, I don’t think anyone believes that it is preventative. I think that most thoughtful individuals know that if a person sets out to do harm to themselves or someone else, they’re not gonna stop and think ‘Oh, there might be someone armed,’” said Cathy Koehler, president of the Arkansas Education Association.

Koehler stopped short of saying that faculty shouldn’t be armed, recognizing that it can take 20 minutes for police in some rural counties to respond to a situation. She stressed that schools should gain community buy-in, which superintendents in both Clarksville and Heber Springs said they did.

“Our preference is always going to be that the investment is made in the mental health services that are so desperately needed and are underfunded,” Koehler said.

Scott Gauntt, a member of the Safety Commission and superintendent of Westside Consolidated School District, said he has received no pressure to arm teachers.

Westside was the site of a deadly shooting 20 years ago, so it is often invoked in conversations about school safety. Like other superintendents interviewed, Gauntt takes his role as protector of students very seriously.

“Just about every time we hear of another shooting, we look at how that took place. How would we have combated that? Could we fix that?” Gauntt asked.

Over the years, the school has installed dozens of surveillance cameras and stronger classroom locks. Teachers undergo survival training to apply a tourniquet, for example, in order to prevent kids from bleeding out from bullet wounds. Students as young as those in elementary school are taught to be a “partner in [their] own survival.” Instead of hiding quietly under their desks, they are now taught to make loud noises and throw things.

“It’s mind boggling that I’ve gotta go down and tell a kindergartener that if a man comes in and tries to shoot you, that you need to run around and scream,” Gauntt said. “That’s not why I got into education.”

When it comes to arming teachers inside the classroom, he’s reluctant to take a hard stance but admits that he worries about guns getting loose.

Ultimately, most parties agree that despite all precautions, a motivated shooter will find a way to do harm.

“School safety is an illusion,” Gauntt said.

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Pistol-Packing Teachers Becoming More Common in Arkansas

Dale Cresswell keeps his gun on his hip at all times: in his classroom, at sporting events, whenever he’s at school.

Cresswell, head coach to the senior boys’ track and cross-country teams, is one of a small, but growing group of teachers around the United States who are volunteering to carry a weapon. His employer, Heber Springs School District, just came online this semester.

“It was a no-brainer. I have a daughter still in school,” said Cresswell of his decision, acknowledging that he might know any potential shooter. “I see it as, I’m protecting more than one person. I’m protecting all the other students.”

Tests and training

In order to qualify, Cresswell and other faculty, including administrators and IT professionals who can move around more easily, underwent background checks and psychological tests. They continue to go through rigorous training.

“I know that last summer there was a big movement here. We were fortunate that we had made the decision early, and we were able to secure trainers and get our time slot locked in,” said Heber Springs School District Superintendent Alan Stauffacher, noting that some other schools are “struggling” to get set up.

A semester in, the novelty of Cresswell carrying a weapon has worn off. He said that when asked, the students tell him they don’t even notice his gun anymore.

​Sandy Hook 

While there appears to have been no law prohibiting it, guns were rarely carried by teachers in Arkansas schools before a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the northeastern U.S. state of Connecticut in 2012.

That incident prompted David Hopkins, superintendent of the Clarksville Public Schools in Clarksville, Arkansas, to begin searching for more effective ways to protect his students.

“It was just so terrible. Something like that, it makes you really pause,” Hopkins said. “I started getting calls from parents and grandparents asking, ‘What are you doing to protect our kids?’”

At that time, Hopkins wondered whether what he had in mind — arming faculty across each school in the district — was even legal. Since then, he has counseled other Arkansan schools as they follow suit.

“It’s not like we want to be cowboys, but if you stop and think about the reality of someone coming into your business or your school, don’t you want to be prepared?” he asked.

Protecting schools, students

Protecting schools from future shootings has increasingly occupied administrators and lawmakers’ time. Just this year, 113 people were killed or injured in school shootings in the U.S.

After the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson tasked a committee with studying how to prevent future school shootings.

Their report, released earlier this month, stressed that individual schools need to make decisions for themselves, but recommended that “no campus should ever be without an armed presence when staff and children are attending class or a major extracurricular activity.”

A study published by Vice News in March found that at least 14 of the 50 states arm teachers and another 16 allow local school boards to decide on the issue.

But while Cresswell and Hopkins believe arming teachers serves as a deterrent for gun violence, not everyone agrees.

Following the Safety Commission report, Moms Demand Action stated that “putting guns in the hands of teachers is not the answer…” and that “research indicates that arming teachers will make children less safe.”

“As a general rule, I don’t think anyone believes that it is preventative. I think that most thoughtful individuals know that if a person sets out to do harm to themselves or someone else, they’re not gonna stop and think ‘Oh, there might be someone armed,’” said Cathy Koehler, president of the Arkansas Education Association.

Koehler stopped short of saying that faculty shouldn’t be armed, recognizing that it can take 20 minutes for police in some rural counties to respond to a situation. She stressed that schools should gain community buy-in, which superintendents in both Clarksville and Heber Springs said they did.

“Our preference is always going to be that the investment is made in the mental health services that are so desperately needed and are underfunded,” Koehler said.

Scott Gauntt, a member of the Safety Commission and superintendent of Westside Consolidated School District, said he has received no pressure to arm teachers.

Westside was the site of a deadly shooting 20 years ago, so it is often invoked in conversations about school safety. Like other superintendents interviewed, Gauntt takes his role as protector of students very seriously.

“Just about every time we hear of another shooting, we look at how that took place. How would we have combated that? Could we fix that?” Gauntt asked.

Over the years, the school has installed dozens of surveillance cameras and stronger classroom locks. Teachers undergo survival training to apply a tourniquet, for example, in order to prevent kids from bleeding out from bullet wounds. Students as young as those in elementary school are taught to be a “partner in [their] own survival.” Instead of hiding quietly under their desks, they are now taught to make loud noises and throw things.

“It’s mind boggling that I’ve gotta go down and tell a kindergartener that if a man comes in and tries to shoot you, that you need to run around and scream,” Gauntt said. “That’s not why I got into education.”

When it comes to arming teachers inside the classroom, he’s reluctant to take a hard stance but admits that he worries about guns getting loose.

Ultimately, most parties agree that despite all precautions, a motivated shooter will find a way to do harm.

“School safety is an illusion,” Gauntt said.

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The Historic Place Where Literary, Political Worlds Intersect

A relatively modest, independently owned bookstore in Washington has become a standout on the cultural scene in the U.S. capital. It’s called Politics and Prose. Since opening in 1984, it’s managed to survive the age of online book buying and thrive as a magnet for some of the world’s highest profile authors, from former Presidents Clinton and Obama, to J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie and photographer Annie Leibovitz. Ani Chkhikvadze stopped by Politics and Prose to learn more about its success.

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