Trump weighs in on gun laws as Florida students return to school after shooting

About 50 uniformed police officers marched into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., as classes resumed for the first time since 17 students and teachers were killed by an expelled classmate with an AR-15, thrusting them into the centre of the nation's gun debate.

Trump at one point in meeting suggested taking guns from mentally ill and worrying later about due process

Students walk to class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday for the first time since a former student opened fire there with an assault-style weapon two weeks ago. (Terry Renna/Associated Press)

About 50 uniformed police officers marched into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., early Wednesday as classes resumed for the first time since 17 students and teachers were killed by an expelled classmate with an AR-15, thrusting them into the centre of the nation's gun debate.

The heavily armed police presence, designed to make the community feel secure, is also disturbing in itself, some students said.

"This is a picture of education in fear in this country. The NRA [National Rifle Association] wants more people just like this, with that exact firearm to scare more people and sell more guns," said David Hogg, who has become a leading voice in the students' movement to control assault weapons.

"I know one of those bullets could be shredding through me if I was misidentified as a school shooter," Hogg added.

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Broward County Schools superintendent Robert Runcie said about 95 per cent of the student body of 3,293 returned to the school, calling Wednesday's attendance "outstanding."

Runcie added that there were about 150 counsellors at the campus to offer support to staff and students, as well as 40 therapy dogs.

The superintendent said only about 15 students and four of the 215 employees have inquired about transferring to other schools.

President, politicians talk guns

As the students participated in their first day in class since the mass shooting, U.S. President Donald Trump was talking about gun laws with legislators, some of it televised in a freewheeling session.

The president, who heard from both Republicans and Democrats Wednesday afternoon, said he is going to write an executive order banning bump stocks. 

"Sadly, these horrible mass shootings are nothing new," Trump said before outlining his priorities when it comes to guns.

The president reiterated his view that schools need to be hardened against attack, including measures to allow "very talented" people to carry firearms in school.

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He said mental health issues also need to be dealt with.

"Everybody was seeing that this guy was sick and nothing happened," the president said, referring to repeated warnings to law enforcement about 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who is now facing 17 charges of first-degree murder in connection with the school massacre.

He said he also wants to ensure that authorities act "quickly and decisively" when warned about a potential threat.

Finally, he reiterated his suggestion for stronger background checks, calling for "common sense" measures that would protect legal gun ownership while keeping guns out of the hands of people who pose a threat.

Students, staff and teachers exit the building following their return to school. The local school board says about 95 per cent of students were back in class. (Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images)

The president also weighed in on age limits, hinting that he would consider signing a bill raising the age limit for buying a rifle from 18 up to 21.

"We're going to come up with some ideas," he said. "Hopefully we can put those ideas in a very bipartisan bill. It would be so beautiful to have one bill that everybody can support, as opposed to — you know —15 bills, everybody's got their own bill."

As legislators presented differing views on the path forward, Trump pointed to the failure of past attempts to address gun violence and told members of Congress that "you have a different president now."

Trump often seemed to reject many of his party's positions on the issue, potentially giving hope to Democrats. 

He also raised eyebrows by suggesting that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate people's firearms without a court order to prevent potential tragedies.

"Take the guns first, go through due process second," he suggested.

Class started with 4th period

Back in Florida, Wednesday's class schedule started with fourth period, so that students and teachers could return to the people they were with during the shooting.

The freshman building where the massacre took place remains cordoned off.

Beverly Turner and Michele Brown huddle to pray in front of a chain-link fence decorated with wreaths as students and faculty arrive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the first time since the mass shooting. (Bernie Woodall/Reuters)

Casey Sherman thinks the schedule was a good idea so students can "get it over with," and not worry about it all day. The 17-year-old junior, who was up until 11:30 p.m. working on preparations for the March 14 national school walkout against gun violence, said she's not afraid returning to school, "just nervous."

"We did go through a tragedy," said Sherman, who walked in holding hands with her boyfriend. "It was terrible, but if you let it stop you ... it's not how you go down — it's how you get back up."

'Welcome Back Eagles'

A long line of cars circled the school, and dozens of television trucks and vehicles were camped out nearby as students, parents and staff were ushered through a security cordon.

A banner saying "Welcome Back Eagles" covers the main entrance, and the walkway leading onto the campus was lined with flowers, photographs and other memorials to the those killed. Some of the students were returning despite severe gun wounds, but even those who weren't hit by bullets spoke of emotional trauma.

Well-wishers place mementos as students and parents arrive for voluntary campus orientation at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Sunday ahead of Wednesday's reopening. (Angel Valentin/Reuters)

Alexis Grogan, a 15-year-old sophomore, planned to wear a Stoneman Douglas colour — maroon — on the first day back to class Wednesday, plus sneakers that say "MSD Strong, be positive, be passionate, be proud to be an eagle" and "2/14/18" in honour of those who died.

She felt nervous, like it might be too soon to go on as usual without slain friends like Luke Hoyer, who sat two seats behind her in Spanish class. Still, the support from her fellow students and their fight to strengthen gun control laws have buoyed her spirits.

"I am so proud of how the kids at my school have been fighting because we all want change to happen and, as we see the progression, it really shows us that people do care and they do hear what we have to say," Grogan said in a text message.

Gun control debated

Meanwhile, Dick's Sporting Goods announced it will immediately end sales of assault-style rifles in its stores and won't sell guns to anyone under 21 years old. Dick's chairman and CEO Edward Stack said on ABC's Good Morning America on Wednesday that after the Florida shooting, the company "felt it needed to do something."

Relatives of the Stoneman Douglas victims kept up the pressure on Tuesday in Florida's capital with emotional testimony during a legislative hearing to discuss passing a bill that would, among other things, raise the age limit to buy long guns from 18 to 21.

The bill also would create a program that allows teachers who receive law-enforcement training and are deputized by the local sheriff's office to carry concealed weapons in the classroom, if also approved by the school district. The school's superintendent has spoken out firmly against that measure.

The House appropriations committee's 23-6 vote in favour of the bill Tuesday followed more than four hours of emotional discussion with the parents of some of the 17 killed, and nearly two weeks of activism by students on social media and in televised debates.

With files from CBC News and Reuters