Ray Carter | October 2, 2019

Teachers’ union calls for gun control

Ray Carter

The National Education Association is urging its members, which include a sizable share of Oklahoma teachers, to lobby Congress to pass new gun-control laws.

The call to support gun control came in the NEA’s “EdAction in Congress” email newsletter, which the organization touts as providing “action alerts and news about the latest federal legislation affecting public schools, educators, and students.”

The Sept. 22 “EdAction in Congress” led with an article headlined, “Democratic House takes action on gun violence; Republican Senate resists.” The NEA article declared, “The House is a hotbed of activity on gun-related issues while the Senate literally does nothing despite broad public support for comprehensive background checks, ‘red flag’ laws …”

The NEA story praised the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to “expand background checks” and close what the NEA called the “Charleston loophole.” The NEA also urged its members to support bans on undefined “high-capacity magazines.”

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action has noted that the “universal” background checks sought by the NEA and like-minded groups are “unenforceable without a comprehensive national registry of firearms.”

Under current law, if a background check is not completed within three days, a citizen is allowed to purchase a firearm. The so-called “Charleston loophole” legislation endorsed by the teachers’ union would extend the waiting period in which a citizen must wait for a background check to be completed.

“There will be emails sent to legislators lobbying against an OK2A bill and it will come from the school itself. So they’re using school equipment.” —Don Spencer, president, Oklahoma Second Amendment Association

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action opposes that legislation, arguing, “Without the 3 day provision, the FBI has no incentive to complete checks in a timely manner.”

The Sept. 22 “EdAction in Congress” also praised 20 Democratic members of the U.S. Senate for making “back-to-back floor speeches calling for Republican leadership to take action on gun violence.”

The Sept. 29 NEA “NEA EdAction In Congress” newsletter continued the drumbeat, reporting that NEA President Lily Eskelsen García was a featured speaker at a national gun-control rally held on Sept. 25 in Washington, D.C.

Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association (OK2A), said he isn’t surprised by the teacher union’s gun-control advocacy, saying he has seen the same thing occur with members of the NEA’s state affiliate, the Oklahoma Education Association.

“There will be emails sent to legislators lobbying against an OK2A bill and it will come from the school itself,” Spencer said. “So they’re using school equipment.”

During the 2018 teacher walkout, he said many teachers also lobbied against gun-rights legislation.

In 2018, when a national move was underway for students to walk out of class to protest gun violence and advocate for gun-control measures, Richard Wilkinson, the general counsel of the NEA-affiliate Oklahoma Education Association, wrote a memo advising teachers of their rights.

Among the advice offered in that document, Wilkinson stated, “Educators may wish to discuss school safety and gun violence issues with their students. As with the First Amendment, there is, unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all guidance available. Such discussions should be consistent with local school district guidelines or policies applicable to these issues. Educators are more likely to be protected when such discussions are both age appropriate and instructionally relevant. Even then, given that school safety and gun control issues may be considered ‘controversial,’ educators should refer to local school district policies and any collective bargaining agreements, which may provide for academic freedom protections or protections to discuss controversial subject matters.”

Spencer said some teachers are members of OK2A, but those individuals are often hesitant to speak publicly about their support of Second Amendment rights due to fear of retaliation by teacher union activists.

“Educators are supposed to be the leading protectors against bullying,” Spencer said, “but in fact they are the leading contributors to it.”

In 2018, there were 11 Republican legislators who received an endorsement from the NEA’s Oklahoma affiliate even as they also ran as supporters of gun rights with strong ratings from gun groups. Those legislators include Sens. Roger Thompson of Okemah, James Leewright of Bristow, Jason Smalley of Stroud, and Reps. Avery Frix of Muskogee, Dell Kerbs of Shawnee, Mark McBride of Moore, Jadine Nollan of Sand Springs, Ross Ford of Broken Arrow, Tammy West of Oklahoma City, and Jon Echols of Oklahoma City.

According to National Rifle Association ratings (see here and here), those 11 lawmakers voted for the NRA position between 87 percent and 100 percent of the time.

The Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association has compiled a legislative scorecard for the 2019 legislative session. Eight of the 11 Republicans endorsed by the NEA’s state affiliate also received a grade of A or better on OK2A’s scorecard for 2019, while Nollan received a B, Kerbs received a B-, and Smalley received a C-.

Does having the simultaneous endorsement of groups that land on opposite sides of gun-control issues create tension for those lawmakers? Frix said the teachers union has not been vocal about its gun-control stances in his interactions with the organization.

“I’m going into my fourth year,” Frix said. “I’ve never had them, that I can recall, lobby me on any sort of gun legislation. I was not aware that the NEA has that in their beliefs. But I’ve been very consistent with where I stand on the Second Amendment and I think my record shows that, and will continue to be supportive of the Second Amendment in a very strong way.”

Ford said there’s no strain created by having the support of both an NEA-affiliate and Second Amendment supporters.

“There’s not a whole lot of tension between my stand on gun control,” Ford said. “My opinion is: That is the Second Amendment. But my personal belief is that we should have some type of gun training to go along with it.”

Ford noted he voted for Oklahoma’s open-carry law.

Spencer said some lawmakers “have an ‘apple’ and they also get an OK2A endorsement.”

“There are some that walk both lines pretty well,” Spencer said.

However, there are indications lawmakers may soon have to abandon support for Second Amendment legislation in order to obtain the endorsement of NEA affiliates like the Oklahoma Education Association.

In July, more than 60 Oklahoma educators participated in the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly. Among the items debated during that event was a resolution to direct the NEA Board “to consider guidelines to prevent the recommendations of any political candidate who takes and/or solicits support from the National Rifle Association.”

The associated “Rationale/Background” for the resolution, filed by an NEA member from Illinois, stated, “As educators, it’s time we flex our political muscle to impact gun violence in our communities. The NRA perpetuates the mass sale of assault rifles. By taking this stand, we can impact gun legislation.”

That resolution was referred to a committee for further study.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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