U.S. President Donald Trump endorsed stricter gun-control measures on Thursday, including raising the minimum age to 21 for possessing a broader range of weapons.
He tweeted his strongest stance as president one day after an emotional White House session where students and parents poured out wrenching tales of lost lives and pleaded for action.
“I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks!” Trump said on Twitter, without immediately offering more details.
Trump’s focus on gun violence came as leaders of the National Rifle Association offered a vigorous defence of gun rights during the Conservative Political Action Conference, urging enhanced — and armed — security at schools.
“Evil walks among us and God help us if we don’t harden our schools and protect our kids,” said NRA executive vice-president and CEO Wayne LaPierre. “The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous.”
The NRA officials didn’t address whether the federal government should raise the age limit for young adults to buy weapons, accusing Democrats and media outlets of exploiting the Florida shooting.
The current federal minimum age for buying or possessing handguns is 21, but the limit is 18 for rifles, including assault-type weapons such as the AR-15 used by a former student in last week’s attack on a Florida high school that killed 17 students and staff members.
Trump met at the White House Thursday with state and administration officials on school safety. A White House official said the president was not endorsing or ruling out any specific policy.
Despite his new push for at least some gun-control changes, Trump stressed his backing for the NRA, saying on Twitter that “the folks who work so hard at the NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
He also repeated his urgent call for trained teachers or others in schools to carry guns as a deterrent to attacks.
“If a potential ‘sicko shooter’ knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school. Cowards won’t go there … problem solved. Must be offensive, defence alone won’t work!” Trump tweeted.
Revisiting an idea he raised in his campaign, Trump’s comments come as lawmakers in several states are wrestling with the idea, including in Florida, where the 17 most recent school shooting victims are being mourned.
Assistant football coach Aaron Feis, hailed for shielding students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, “was very brave,” Trump said Wednesday during a listening session with parents and survivors of school shootings. “If he had a firearm, he wouldn’t have had to run.”
Florida Republican Sen. Greg Steube said gun-free zones like schools are easy targets and has proposed allowing specially trained educators with military or law enforcement backgrounds to be armed.
“Our most valuable, most precious resources are our children. Why in the world are we going to put them in a circumstance where there is nobody that is armed and trained at any of our schools to be able to respond quickly to an active shooter situation?” Steube told The Associated Press, even as students, including survivors of the Parkland shooting, rallied at the state’s capitol in support of changes in gun laws.
Similar discussions have taken place in Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina and Alabama in recent days and Wisconsin’s attorney general said he’s open to the idea.
“Our students do not need to be sitting ducks. Our teachers do not need to be defending themselves with a No. 2 pencil,” Republican Alabama Rep. Will Ainsworth said in proposing a bill days after the Valentine’s Day shooting in Florida.
The debate goes well beyond statehouse walls: teachers — and the public — are divided on the issue.
Salt Lake City, Utah, teacher Kasey Hansen said the idea to arm herself in school began with the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults died.
“It just really hit home that these teachers, all they could do was pile those kids in a corner and stand in front of them and hope for the best,” said Hansen, who carries a concealed handgun as she teaches special education students.
“I’m not here to tell all teachers that they have to carry a gun,” she said. “For me personally, I felt that it was more of a solution than just hiding in a corner and waiting.”
A makeshift memorial with crosses for the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre stands outside a home in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2013, the one-year anniversary of the shootings.(Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)
Utah is among at least eight states that allow, or don’t specifically prohibit, concealed weapons in K-12 schools, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In Austin, Texas, teacher Tara Bordeaux can’t easily see herself taking on that role, preferring to leave it to trained law enforcement officers.
“Would I get the same training and would I have the same type of instinct of when and how to use it?” asked Bordeaux, her state’s 2018 teacher of the year. “I don’t have any instincts in me to be an officer of the law. My instincts are to be a teacher.”
‘Hold off until help arrives’
Claude, Texas, Independent School District superintendent Brock Cartwright won’t reveal how many or who among his teachers is armed, but the district’s message to potential intruders blares in capital letters in three signs: “Please be aware that the staff at Claude ISD is armed and may use whatever force necessary to protect our students.”
A sign stands outside a school in Claude, Texas, in August 2016.(The Associated Press)
Like other administrators, Cartwright said armed teachers are just one part of safety plans that include drilling for emergencies and shoring up buildings. The small town east of Amarillo doesn’t have a police department, raising concerns about the potential response time for law enforcement.
“Hopefully, we never have to use it,” Cartwright said, “but if we do, our thought is we’re going to hold off until help arrives.”
The president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, called arming teachers “one of the worst ideas I have heard in a series of really, really, really bad ideas.” Nevertheless, a tweeted offer by Butler County, Ohio, Sheriff Richard Jones to train local teachers to carry a concealed handgun garnered so much interest that he quickly capped the number at 300.
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