Trump urges ban on gun devices like bump stocks
Students head to Florida capital to press for gun law changes
U.S. President Donald Trump says he's signed a memo directing the Justice Department to propose regulations to ban gun modifications like bump stocks used in last year's Las Vegas massacre.
Trump made the announcement during a ceremony on Tuesday recognizing bravery by the nation's public safety officers.
He is responding days after the shooting deaths of 17 people at a Florida high school; pointing to the need to propose regulations to ban the device that was used in the October shooting deaths of 58 people in Las Vegas.
His statement came as dozens of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students from Parkland, Fla., were busing 600 kilometres to the state capital to urge lawmakers to act to prevent a repeat of the deadly shooting.
White House officials have said the president will meet this week with students, teachers and state and local officials to discuss ways of providing more school safety and address gun violence. Past efforts to address gun violence in Congress have failed.
Trump said "we have to do more" to protect our children.
"School safety is a top priority for my administration," he said during the medal of valour ceremony, saying he plans to discuss the issue next week in a meeting with governors.
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"We will be discussing at great length what the federal and state governments can do to keep our schools safe," he said.
That includes signing a directive to the Justice Department proposing regulations to ban modifications like bump stocks that "turn legal weapons into machine guns," Trump said.
The shooter in last year's deadly Las Vegas massacre, which left 58 people dead, used a bump stock to increase the speed at which his weapon fired.
Students push for change
The 100 students plan to hold a rally Wednesday in Tallahassee in hopes it will put pressure on the state's Republican-controlled legislature to consider a sweeping package of gun-control laws, something some Republican lawmakers said Monday they would consider.
On Monday, a White House statement said Trump was looking at a bill that would strengthen federal gun background checks. On Wednesday, he will host parents, teachers and students at the White House for a
"listening session" that will include people impacted by mass shootings in Parkland, Columbine, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.
Shortly after the shooting last Wednesday, several legislative leaders were taken on a tour of the school in Broward County to see the damage, and appeared shaken afterward.
"I really think they are going to hear us out," said Chris Grady, a 19-year-old senior. He said he hopes the trip will lead to some "common sense laws like rigourous background checks."
The attack last Wednesday seemed to overcome the resistance of some in the state's leadership, which has rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor's office and the legislature in 1999. However, there is still strong resistance by many in the party to any gun-control measures, leaving the fate of new restrictions unclear.
State lawmakers in spotlight
At the Florida statehouse on Tuesday, a Democratic representative asked for a procedural move that would have allowed the Republican-controlled House to consider a ban on large-capacity magazines and assault rifles such as the AR-15 that was wielded by the suspect, Nickolas Cruz.
The bill had been assigned to three committees but was not scheduled for a hearing. The House quickly nixed the Democratic motion. The vote broke down along party lines, and Republicans criticized Democrats for forcing the vote.
Because the committees will not meet again before the legislative session ends March 9, the move essentially extinguishes hope that lawmakers would vote on any sweeping measures to restrict assault rifles, although other proposals could still be considered.
As part of the flurry of activity in Tallahassee, the governor on Tuesday also convened groups assigned to propose measures for protecting schools from gun violence.
Lawmakers will probably say that getting a new bill passed is nearly impossible with only two and a half weeks left in the legislative session. Some lawmakers who are thinking of running on a statewide ticket are mindful of their sensitive positions, since gun owners make up huge voting blocs in some parts of the state, especially the Panhandle.
Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior, said he hoped the trip starts a conversation between the Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott and the students over common sense laws on guns.
Repeated police calls to suspect's home
Authorities said Cruz, who has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, had a string of run-ins with school authorities that ended with his expulsion. Police also were repeatedly called to his house throughout his childhood. Cruz's lawyers said there were repeated warning signs that he was mentally unstable and potentially violent. Yet, he legally purchased a semi-automatic rifle.
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Cruz legally purchased at least seven long guns, including an AK-47-style rifle he bought less than a month ago, a law enforcement official said Monday. The official is familiar with the investigation but isn't authorized to discuss it and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Federal law allows those 18 and over to buy rifles, and Cruz passed background checks necessary to obtain the weapons.
Cruz made his first appearance in court Monday. Wearing a prison jumpsuit, he kept his head down and did not appear to make eye contact with the judge or others in the courtroom, though he responded briefly to someone on the defence team. A previous appearance was by a video connection from jail.
His lawyers have said he will plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty. No decision has been made on that.
Since the attack, students from the school have become increasingly vocal in their demands for gun-control measures. Many have pointed out politicians who take financial support from the National Rifle Association, and some have lashed out at Trump, saying he was busy blaming Democrats for failing to pass gun restrictions while taking no action of his own.
In the wake of the Florida shooting, students are also calling for anti-gun violence demonstrations in Washington and other cities March 24.
Organizers behind the anti-Trump Women's March called for a 17-minute nationwide walkout by teachers and students on March 14, and a gun-control group was calling for a rally to ban assault weapons Wednesday at the Florida Capitol.