'We should have fixed it': Trump hears from students, parents after Florida shooting
Trump says he'll be 'very strong on background checks' but introduces idea of arming teachers
Spilling out wrenching tales of lost lives and stolen safety, students with quavering voices and parents shaking with anger appealed to U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday to set politics aside and protect American school children from the scourge of gun violence. Trump listened intently as raw emotions reverberated at the White House.
Faced with the personal anguish wrought by the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead, Trump pledged action, saying: "We don't want others to go through the kind of pain you've been through."
He was faced with grieving families looking for answers. Few had concrete suggestions, but a few spoke in favour of raising age limits for buying assault weapons.
Sam Zeif, who was on the second floor of the school during the shooting, talked about his fear and exchanging terrified text messages with his brother, who was also inside the school.
Cary Gruber, father of a Parkland student, implored Trump: "It's not left and right… if you can't buy a beer, shouldn't be able to buy a gun."
- Trump urges ban on gun devices like bump stocks
- A closer look at bump stocks — the new target in U.S. gun control debate
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting, noted previous school massacres and raged over his loss, saying the moment wasn't about gun laws but about fixing the schools.
"It should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it and I'm pissed. Because my daughter, I'm not going to see again," said Pollack. "King David Cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid now."
Trump solicited suggestions from the group. He promised to be "very strong on background checks," adding that "we're going to do plenty of other things." He also indicated interest in the idea of concealed weapons for trained teachers, saying it was something his administration would be "looking at it very strongly."
A strong supporter of gun rights, Trump has nonetheless indicated in recent days that he is willing to consider ideas not in keeping with National Rifle Association orthodoxy, including age restrictions for buying assault-type weapons. Still, gun owners are a key part of his base of supporters.
'Teachers should teach'
The idea of arming teachers was not championed later by Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel at a contentious public town hall Wednesday night broadcast by CNN in Sunrise, Fla.,
"I don't believe teachers should be armed. I believe teachers should teach," said Israel.
Angry students, teachers and parents booed Rubio when he indicated that he would not support an assault-weapons ban and also voiced their displeasure when Dana Loesch, spokesperson from the National Rifle Association, when she said the answer was not to ban weapons but to ensure they stay out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Among the group Trump hosted were six students from Parkland, including the student body president, along with their parents. Also present were Darrell and Sandra Scott, whose daughter was killed in the Columbine, Colo., shooting, and Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, who lost children in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. Students and parents from the Washington area also were present.
The student body president at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Julia Cordover, tearfully told Trump that she "was lucky enough to come home from school."
She added: "I am confident you will do the right thing."
Not all the students affected by the shooting came to the White House.
David Hogg, who has been one of the students actively calling for gun control was invited but declined, said his mother Rebecca Boldrick.
"His point was [Trump needs] to come to Parkland, we're not going there," she said.
In the Senate, Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Jeff Flake said they will introduce a bill to raise the minimum age required to purchase rifles from gun dealers, including assault weapons such as the AR-15.
"A kid too young buy a handgun should be too young to buy an .AR15," Flake said on Twitter. The bill he and Feinstein support would raise the minimum purchase age for non-military buyers from 18 to 21, the same age required to purchase a handgun.
Trump embraced gun rights on his campaign, though he supported some gun control before he became a candidate, backing an assault weapons ban and a longer waiting period to purchase a gun in a 2000 book.
Student slams 'political double talk'
Students were also calling for change from state legislators in Tallahassee, the state capital. Throughout the day Wednesday, television news showed footage of student survivors of the violence marching on the capitol, calling for tougher gun laws.
Ryan Deitsch, an 18-year-old Grade 12 student at the Parkland school, spoke to reporters inside, saying lawmakers have not taken action to reduce gun violence and instead have been guilty of using "political double talk as much as they can."
"It's not a weapon I want them to use any more. The more they don't act, the more they don't deserve to be in office," he said.
"Parkland is a beautiful, safe town, and now it's ruined," said Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old Grade 10 student at the school.
Tyra Hemans, a Grade 12 student at the school, told CBC News on Wednesday that she survived last week's shooting because she heard the early gunshots and ran for her life. Hemans was among the students in Tallahassee calling for action from politicians — and calling out past inaction.
"If you wanted to try and make change, you should have made the change [in] 1999," she said, referring back to the deadly shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, when two teenagers killed 13 people before killing themselves.
I met with students who came up from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High today. I look forward to putting out my proposal on Friday to keep students safe and prevent people with mental illness from getting guns. <a href="https://t.co/GryC3Det9V">pic.twitter.com/GryC3Det9V</a>—@FLGovScott
Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the June 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, spoke to the students and the crowd about what it was like for him to listen as gunshots ripped through the Pulse nightclub, killing his friends and dozens of others.
He said the choice for Republican legislators is clear: "Either do your jobs or get the hell out of our way."
Florida lawmakers have rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor's office and the Legislature in 1999.
At one point, about 30 people left an anti-gun rally outside Florida's Old Capitol and began a sit-in protest at the office of four House Republican leaders, demanding a conversation about gun legislation.
Bump stocks, background checks
On Tuesday, Trump directed the Justice Department to move to ban devices like the rapid-fire bump stocks used in last year's Las Vegas massacre but it's unclear whether the Justice Department even has authority to regulate bump stocks and arguing that the background check legislation would not go far enough.
ATF reviewed the devices and approved them in 2010, finding they did not amount to machine-guns that are regulated under the National Firearms Act that dates to the 1930s.
As calls for ATF to ban bump stocks mounted after the Las Vegas shooting, the agency initially said it could only reconsider their lawfulness if Congress amended existing laws or passed new legislation. An effort to pass legislation last year fizzled out.
On background checks, Trump has suggested he is open to a bipartisan bill developed in response to a mass shooting at a Texas church. It would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the bill is "a small step," stressing that Democrats want to see universal background check legislation.
With files from CBC News