President Donald Trump met with tearful survivors of the Florida high school massacre and asserted that arming school teachers could prevent future mass school shootings.
The president's "listening session" came after the country's latest massacre in which former student Nikolas Cruz sprayed pupils and teachers with his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 people.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Vice President Mike Pence accompanied Trump in the event.
Hailed as the "Valentine’s Day massacre," the shooting forced parents of the children killed in shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and Columbine High School to plead for a change in the existing gun control measures when they met with the president at the White House on Wednesday.
Trump vowed to enforce “very strong” background checks at schools and pushed for allowing trained teachers to carry concealed weapons with them in the premises so as to curb school shootings in the future.
Trump said that schools could arm up to 20 percent of its teachers with firepower to stop "maniacs" from planning attacks. "If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly," he said.
"This would be obviously only for people who were very adept at handling a gun, and it would be, it's called concealed carry, where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them.
“They'd go for special training and they would be there and you would no longer have a gun-free zone.”
Trump cited that many airline pilots have been allowed to carry concealed weapons ever since 9/11 happened and this has instilled a sense of security in travelers.
“An attack has lasted on average about three minutes, it takes five to eight minutes for responders, the police, to come in, so the attack is over,” Trump said.
The president acknowledged that the gun proposal is disputable, and asked for a show of hands to determine how many are for and against arming teachers and military veterans with guns. While some indicated their support, others were against the proposition.
“Certainly it’s controversial, but we’ll study that, along with many other ideas,” the president told his guests.
Trump was slammed by fellow politicians for allegedly holding a cue card to remind him to sympathize with survivors when he met them.
The commander-in-chief proposed to remove gun-free zones in the American heartland, saying that shooters are encouraged to attack because they know that "bullets aren’t coming back” at them.
Cary Gruber, the father of a student at Douglas High in Parkland spoke to Trump at the meeting in the State Dining Room: "It's not left and right… if you can't buy a beer, shouldn't be able to buy a gun.”
Sam Zeif, a student at Marjory Stoneman, said that he had accepted his fate during the shooting and sent a text to his immediate family telling them that he wouldn't see them again. It was not much later that he realized his brother was in the classroom upstairs where teacher Scott Beigel died protecting his students from the shooter's bullets.
The 18-year-old said: "I don't understand why I can still go to a store and buy a weapon of war, an AR. Let's never let this happen again.”
“I lost a best friend,” Zeif said. He “was practically a brother. And I’m here to use my voice because I know he can’t. And I know he’s with me, cheering me on to be strong, but it’s hard. And to feel like this, it doesn’t even feel like a week. Time has stood still.”
The president of the student body at Douglas, Julia Cordover, told Trump that she "was lucky enough to come home from school”, adding: "I am confident you will do the right thing”.
Florida students drove to their capital Tallahassee, to demand a ban on assault rifles. They were greeted with cheers, waves, and applause from fellow teens on their arrival.
Diego Pfeiffer, a senior at Stoneman, told the audience, "We're here to make sure this never happens again."
However, the Florida House of Representatives rejected their motion to pass a bill to end sales of these rifles in their state.
"I am not going back to school until lawmakers, and the president, change this law," said 19-year-old Tyra Hemans, who traveled to the state capital.
"Three people I looked to for advice and courage are gone but never forgotten, and for them, I am going to our state capital to tell lawmakers we are tired and exhausted of stupid gun laws," he added.
DeVos gave her two cents on the issue of arming teachers, saying it was “an important issue for all states to grapple with”. When further questioned about the same, she said that decisions had to be made “at the local level and at the state level. Communities need to share best practices and results from the steps that they take to ensure that kids have a safe environment in which to learn.”
Nicole Hockley, the mother of 6-year-old Dylan who was killed in the Newtown shooting, said, “This is not a difficult issue. You’re absolutely right. There are solutions and this administration has the ability to put them in place.”
Hockley further added that she thinks arming teachers is a bad idea to address the gun violence outbreak in recent times and she said that the focus should be on training teachers with disaster management to prevent casualties.
Having said that, Trump also voiced his interest in exploring how mental health awareness or treatment could help in stopping such attacks. The president had previously urged Americans to keep an eye out for individuals who they believe could cause harm to others due to mental instability. He also floated the idea of removing gun free school zones at one point in the session.
After the Florida shooting, many students have urged the Trump administration to revise and enforce gun control measures.
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