WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday pledged to help states pay for firearms training for teachers and reiterated its call to improve the background check system as part of a new plan to prevent school shootings.
But in a move sure to please the gun lobby, the plan does not include a push to increase the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons to 21, which President Donald Trump had repeatedly championed.
Instead, a new federal commission on school safety will examine the age issue, as well as a long list of others topics, as part of a longer-term look at school safety and violence.
The plan forgoes an endorsement of comprehensive background checks for gun purchases, which the president, at times, seemed to embrace.
In a call with reporters Sunday evening, administration officials described the plan as a fulfillment of Trump's call for action in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month that left 17 dead.
"Today we are announcing meaningful actions, steps that can be taken right away to help protect students," said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who will chair the commission.
DeVos said that "far too often, the focus" after such tragedies "has been only on the most contentious fights, the things that have divided people and sent them into their entrenched corners." She described the plan as "pragmatic."
The plan was immediately panned by gun control advocates, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Americans expecting real leadership to prevent gun violence will be disappointed and troubled by President Trump's dangerous retreat from his promise," said Avery Gardiner, the group's co-president.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called the plan "weak on security and an insult to the victims of gun violence." In a statement, he added, "When it comes to keeping our families safe, it's clear that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are all talk and no action."
The plan is less ambitious than the changes Trump advocated in a series of listening sessions in the weeks after the massacre. In televised meetings with lawmakers, survivors of recent school shootings and the families of victims, Trump made a strong case for arming teachers, but also increasing the age for purchasing long guns.
"I mean, so they buy a revolver — a handgun — they buy at the age of 21. And yet, these other weapons that we talk about ... they're allowed to buy them at 18. So how does that make sense?" he told school officials last month. "We're going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18."
White House spokesman Raj Shah had said earlier Sunday in an interview with ABC's "This Week" that "the president has been clear that he does support raising the age to 21" and that that would be a "component" of the announcement.
But Trump also has spoken repeatedly in recent weeks with the heads of the powerful National Rifle Association, which considers increasing the age of purchase to be an assault on the Second Amendment. The NRA on Friday sued Florida over a new gun law signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott that bans the purchase of firearms by anyone under the age of 21.
Instead, the issue will be one of manyf topics to be studied by the DeVos commission, which will then provide recommendations to the president. Administration officials said they had not set a deadline for the commission's recommendations, but expected they'd be made within a year.
Trump's embrace of another commission appears at odds with comments he made Saturday night mocking their use, at least when it comes to fighting drug addiction.
During the meetings, Trump also advocated arming certain teachers and school staffers, arguing that gun-free schools are "like an invitation for these very sick people" to commit murder.
"If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could end the attack very quickly," he has said.
As part of the plan, the White House has directed the Justice Department to help states partner with local law enforcement to provide "rigorous firearms training to specifically qualified volunteer school personnel," said Andrew Bremberg, director of the president's Domestic Policy Council. The White House did not immediately say how much money would be made available.
Trump also called on states to pass temporary, court-issued Risk Protection Orders, which allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from individuals who pose risks to themselves and others, and temporarily prevent them from buying firearms. And he called for the reform and expansion of mental health programs, as well as a full audit and review of the FBI tip line. The bureau has been criticized for not following up on warnings about the suspect in the Parkland school shooting.
During the often free-wheeling conversations, Trump also seemed to voice support for "universal" background checks, which would apply to private gun sales and those at gun shows, instead of just from licensed dealers. He also raised eyebrows by suggesting that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate guns from those they deem a safety risk even before a court has weighed in.
"Take the guns first, go through due process second," Trump said.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later walked back both suggestions, saying "Universal means something different to a lot of people." She said the president wanted to expedite the court process, not circumvent it.
Instead, the White House reiterated its support for improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check through the "Fix NICS" bill, which would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences.
The White House called on Congress to pass a second bill that would create a federal grant program to train students, teachers and school officials how to identify signs of potential violence and intervene early. The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote on the STOP School Violence Act next week.
Myers B. Cather's life story, typed and illustrated and saved for posterity, began with his mother’s memories — of a 9-pound baby born in Wyoming, nicknamed Buddy by his grandmother.
The pages of "My Story" included his family’s return to Lincoln after the homesteading adventure out west ended. His stonemason father and grandfather laying bricks and sidewalks, the two families living as neighbors on P Street.
It detailed his boyhood adventures. His first car, a Graham-Paige, shiny red. A teenager singing at Lincoln High and being taught English by Willa Cather’s sister, Elsie.
A young man's service to his country as a pilot — first in World War II and then Korea. His tenure as head of the Lincoln Air Base. His career in advertising, an account executive for an automotive giant and later a bigwig at Bristol-Myers.
There was his marriage to Margaret McKay and his three lovely daughters and his entrepreneurial endeavors.
But the biography failed to note his time at the University of Nebraska, where he was a halfback on the football team, took classes in marketing and business and art and upon his death bequeathed $2 million to UNL’s School of Art, Art History & Design.
* * *
Bud Cather was 96 when he died on Dec. 24, 2013, in Rancho Bernardo, California.
The Air Force colonel was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, survived by three daughters, two granddaughters, one brother and a host of loved ones.
“He probably was very well-known in Lincoln,” his nephew John Cox said from his Palm Springs home. “His father was Cather Construction and they used to do sidewalks all over town. A lot of brick buildings in Lincoln were Cather-built.”
The stable at Wyuka, now the Swan Theatre, was one. The Carnegie Library on North 27th, now Matt Talbot Kitchen, was another.
His uncle was a natural athlete, Cox said. “He was an ice skater, he could figure skate, he played football for the university.”
And he was an amazing artist. “He taught me to draw.”
And he charged for the training: “I paid five cents a class.”
He left behind dozens and dozens of paintings and small sculptures. Seascapes from vacations to Jamaica, drawings of almond-eyed cats and foxes, portraits, landscapes. Wooden birds, carvings of old men.
The School of Art, Art History & Design staged a retrospective of his works in late January, when they announced Cather’s endowment and celebrated his legacy with the Myers B. Cather Art Fund.
“This is a remarkable gift from a remarkable family,” Francisco Souto, director of the school, said last week. “It will bring fresh, new air into the school.”
The endowment will support everything from scholarships and assistantships to grants for travel. “Opportunities to make their education stronger.”
In the 1930s, Cather had pursued art as a Cornhusker.
“He ended up going to art school, business school and marketing school there,” Cox said. “And as a result, he never actually graduated.”
Instead, the young man with movie star good looks went west and graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He met Salvador Dali there and they painted movie sets together.
Then he went to war.
He commanded a squadron of B-24s in World War II in Europe. He flew three missions on D-Day. When they called him back to Korea, he answered.
Later, he’d return to Lincoln to command the air base, where visitors like Gen. Curtis LeMay were frequent.
“He (LeMay) asked a tanker crewman how morale was. The crewman answered, ‘Excellent, Sir. We have a slogan for our tanker, ‘Up your ass with Mobile gas!,’” Bud wrote in his memoir.
A few years later, Cather went back to California to work on advertising slogans himself. He left McCue/Cather Advertising for Detroit in 1957, lured away by Grant Advertising to manage the Dodge account. (“I knew nothing about Dodge automobiles except a friend of mine who lived across the street from me owned one and he considered it a lemon.”)
Five years later, he was working on Madison Avenue, head of Bristol-Myers’ products division, traveling the country and sealing deals.
He had it made, said Cox, who followed his uncle into the advertising business.
And when he wasn’t wooing a client, he made art.
“He drew, painted and sculpted his whole life.” A skilled photographer, the artist snapped pictures first and then drew from those images, sometimes straying into impressionistic works.
Eventually, Cather returned to the California sunshine he loved.
But he loved his hometown, too, Cox said.
“Bud had always been dedicated to Lincoln and to the university. The whole family is dedicated to Nebraska.”
* * *
Bud Cather knew how to make a deal.
He was a workaholic like his father and grandfather and a savvy businessman who could spot opportunity.
He sold cucumbers from his mother’s garden. Pulled nails from wooden forms caked with dried concrete. He delivered ice cream for Taylor Drug, wrapped boxes of Kotex in plain green paper so the ladies wouldn’t blush at the counter. Made 50 cents an hour as a laborer during high school.
“I hired a man ... to do my job for twenty-five cents an hour,” he wrote in his memoir. “I pocketed the other twenty-five cents and went swimming.”
His older brother was filled with good ideas, says Bob Cather, who started Cather & Sons Construction with another brother, Howard, and their father.
“He was the innovator,” Bob Cather says. “He was the brain. I just kind of went along.”
He gives an example: Bud recruited him and a few other men to travel the state, painting signs on lumber yard roofs to direct small airplanes to the nearest airports.
Bud designed the stencils from conduit and they chalked in the outlines before painting the letters with bright yellow aluminum paint that smelled like bananas.
The state paid them $85 a sign, which Bud shared with his crew.
“They got rich. I got rich. The state got an air marker,” Bud wrote.
Bud had a knack for being in the right place, he said. When he was training in the Air Force, he had a roommate named Jimmy Stewart.
His advertising career took off in the heyday of print — overseeing a $20 million account for daring new cars like the Dodge Dart.
He bought Bristol-Myers stock and held it.
His big brother protected him, Bob said, and he taught him to love art.
“From the time I was a little boy, he was drawing and encouraged me to do so, too.”
He even followed him to the University of Nebraska — where a distant relative named Willa Cather once studied — now blessed with Bud’s generous gift.
“I majored in art, too, but I never had that kind of talent.”
ACLU of Nebraska is charging that the Nebraska Department of Corrections may have misrepresented how it intended to use lethal injection drugs it obtained.
In a letter to be sent Monday to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the organization said it appeared the department and Nebraska State Penitentiary illegally used its DEA registrations to obtain drugs for executing inmates, violating federal controlled substances laws.
The ACLU called for the Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate the matter and if the allegations are true, to suspend and revoke the registration and to not allow the controlled substances now in the prison’s possession to be used for executions.
The department and the hospital and clinic at the Lincoln prison have been licensed to conduct medical services to help prisoners, said Amy Miller, ACLU of Nebraska legal director.
The DEA registration authorizes the prison's skilled nurses to dispense controlled substances to patients of that hospital/clinic, limited to health care treatment, the ACLU letter says. It does not authorize the hospital, clinic, or anyone else to administer medications to people who are not patients there, or for lethal injections, the ACLU contends.
It's not just an issue that they don't have the proper paperwork, Miller said.
"It looks to us as if they have materially misrepresented information to the federal authorities about their plans for what they were going to use those DEA registrations for," Miller said.
The state of Nebraska has to follow the law like everyone else, Miller said.
The Journal Star received an early copy of the letter and the Department of Corrections has not yet had the opportunity to respond.
ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said the alleged misuse of the registration is another in a series of flagrant efforts to skirt federal regulations and state laws and regulations.
"I think if you look at what we do know from past practice and from the record, the state of Nebraska's experience in playing fast and loose with these laws, and being called on the carpet for it, (has) played out in Nebraska's troubled lethal injection history," she said.
"Unfortunately the state of Nebraska and Gov. (Pete) Ricketts refuse to learn their lesson," she said.
The letter to the DEA was addressed to Demetra Ashley, the acting assistant administrator of diversion control; Wendy Goggin, the DEA leading attorney, and James Shroba, the special agent in charge of the St. Louis division.
The lethal injection drugs — diazepam, fentanyl, cisatracurium besylate and potassium chloride — are controlled substances and their use, storage and dispensing are governed by federal laws, Conrad said.
"It's critical that everyone complies with those laws because there's such serious harms to the public interest and public safety if they don't," Conrad said. "That includes the Department of Corrections who has sought these registrations."
The department is, for the most part, using the drugs for the medical needs of inmates in their care, she said.
"But when they're also using that registration as cover to utilize these medicines for purposes of lethal injection it really raises a host of serious concerns," she said.
For execution purposes with specified doses, diazepam would render a condemned prisoner unconscious; fentanyl, an opioid synthetic painkiller, would cause unconsciousness and stop breathing; cisatracurium besylate would paralyze the inmate; and potassium chloride would stop the heart.
The state's four-drug protocol has never been used for executions, and one of the biggest concerns is the plan to use fentanyl, which is subject to some of the strictest regulations and controls surrounding its use.
"That's really an important component of this action to the DEA because it's a really a new fact and a game-changer in many regards when it comes to how that serious opioid is used in this instance," Conrad said.
When the Legislature moved to lethal injection for executions after the electric chair was determined unconstitutional by the Nebraska Supreme Court, there was an attempt to say lethal injection and executions were exempted from state law that governs the practice of medicine, she said.
"These issues continue to haunt the Nebraska Department of Corrections and other states," she said.
There's still a host of other state and federal laws governing the use of drugs that the department can't exempt itself from, she said.
Nebraska has a history of trying to circumvent federal law in importing drugs for lethal injection purposes, the ACLU said.
In 2015, the department tried to import the lethal injection drug sodium thiopental from a distributor in India despite it being a violation of federal law and regulations.
Since then, the department attempted to pass new protocols that would keep sources of lethal injection drugs secret. The proposal was narrowed, but there is a pending shield law legislative bill (LB661) introduced by Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell that would have the same effect.
The state notified two death row inmates, Jose Sandoval in November and Carey Dean Moore in January, of the drugs that would be used in their pending executions. No execution warrants have been issued, so no date has been set for their penalty to be carried out.
According to the state's execution protocol, the notice of the drugs, quantities and sequence used must be issued to the inmate 60 days in advance of seeking a death warrant from the state Supreme Court. It's been more than 60 days since Sandoval's notice, and March 20 will be 60 days in the case of Moore.
Pfizer has requested the state return any lethal injection drugs it has manufactured.
The Department of Corrections and Director Scott Frakes have denied requests by the Lincoln Journal Star, ACLU of Nebraska and Omaha World-Herald for public records related to the purchase of the drugs.
Subsequent to the denial, the ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking to force the department to release public records relating to lethal injection drugs obtained by the state. Working with Media of Nebraska, the Journal Star has filed a separate petition seeking the records, as has the World-Herald.
A trial date has been set for May on those lawsuits.