President Donald Trump intensified his call to arm "gun-adept" teachers and school staff members on Friday, taking another step toward gun-rights advocates even as he proposes some changes they've long opposed.
The president was met with cheers at the Conservative Political Action Conference when he proposed that trained school officials carry concealed weapons. He said armed faculty members could have stopped last week's school shooting in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people.
"A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened," Trump said.
Addressing conservatives in Oxon Hill, Md., Trump offered a greatest-hits recap of his campaign themes during wide-ranging remarks to the conference. He urged activists to help Republicans in the fall midterm elections.
Trump predicted that Democrats would "take away those massive tax cuts," referring to his signature tax law signed in December, "and they will take away your Second Amendment."
He also re-aired rhetoric from his 2016 campaign, citing a "very crooked media, we had a crooked candidate, too, by the way," referring to former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. The crowd chanted, "Lock her up," a common refrain at Trump campaign rallies.
Trump got push-back from Florida's Broward County, where last week's shootings took place. Said Superintendent Robert Runcie: "I am totally against arming teachers. They have a challenging job as it is."
As Trump spoke, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, announced the state will raise the legal age for purchasing a gun to 21 from 18. Trump told the crowd that he also supports such a move, as well as tougher background checks, even though gun-rights advocates, including the powerful National Rifle Association, have long opposed them.
Trump said that past efforts to address school safety and gun violence had faded and "nothing ever gets done. We want to see if we can get it done." He added, "Most of it's just common sense. It's not 'do you love guns, do you hate guns.' It's common sense."
Trump has advanced a variety of ideas to counter gun violence, and the White House this week asked the Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for recommendations: everything from faster ballistics testing to more prosecutions for those who lie on gun background check forms.
The White House has said Trump will soon lay out a package of school and gun safety proposals for Congress to consider.
While Trump did not mention his proposal to increase age restrictions for the purchase of firearms, Vice President Mike Pence did at a separate event with the nation's governors. He said Trump had called for raising the age limit in an effort to work "with leaders in the Congress to bring this evil in our time to an end."
Trump said he spoke Friday morning to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on a response to the school shooting. "People are looking to really energize," he said.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., an outspoken advocate for more gun restrictions after the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., said he expected to meet with White House aides next week. "I'm here to hear the White House out," Murphy said.
A bill introduced by Murphy and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, gained more support Friday when 19 House Republicans pressed Ryan to schedule a vote on it next week.
In a letter led by Rep. Leonard Lance, R-New Jersey, the lawmakers said the Florida shooting has revived the push to overhaul the nation's gun laws. They said passing the bill would be an "important step toward making our country safer from gun violence."
The bill, which is narrow in focus, would reinforce the requirement that federal agencies report all criminal infractions to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and create financial incentives for states to do so, as well.
Earlier this month, Trump signaled support for the measure.
Trump also on Friday disparaged an armed sheriff's deputy who was present at the Parkland school during the shooting but stayed outside the building, calling him a coward. He said armed and trained teachers would be more likely to face down an attacker because "they love their students."
The Florida deputy, Scot Peterson, "certainly did a poor job," Trump told reporters earlier in the day as he left the White House. The deputy "didn't react properly under pressure or [he was] a coward," the president added. Peterson was assigned to the school as a resource officer and was on the campus when shooting began.
"What he did, he's trained his whole life, there's an example, but when it came time to get in there and do something, he didn't have the courage or something happened," Trump said.
His comments drew a rebuke from a top teachers' union leader. "Denigrating the work of campus security guards is reprehensible," said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.
Trump has backed paying bonuses to teachers who carry guns in the classroom.
"You have to have a certain amount of offensive power within the school. It can't only be defense," Trump told reporters.
The deputy's failure was compounded by confusion about what was being shown to police on school security cameras the day of the shooting and the lack of meaningful response to reports to the FBI and local police that 19-year-old suspect Nikolas Cruz might become violent, had guns and possibly would attack a school.
In Florida, Scott unveiled his school safety proposals as teachers returned for the first time to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School since the shooting.
The shooting sparked an intense push to restrict access to assault rifles. Student activists have swarmed the state Capitol demanding concrete gun-control measures.
Shares in gun stocks fell on the announcement that the state would require all gun purchasers to be at least 21 years old and would invest $500 million in a plan to put more armed guards in schools.
Scott outlined his plan at a Tallahassee news conference. In addition to banning firearm sales to anyone under 21, the governor called for a trained law enforcement officer for every school -- and one for every 1,000 students at larger schools -- by the time the next school year begins.
Among other things, the governor's plan would create a "violent threat restraining order" that would let a court prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm or any other weapon under certain circumstances.
The proposal would also strengthen gun purchase and possession restrictions for mentally ill people under the state's Baker Act, which allows someone to be involuntarily hospitalized for up to 72 hours. Scott is seeking $50 million for initiatives that include expanding mental health services by providing counseling, crisis management and other mental health services for children and young adults.
"No one with mental issues should have access to a gun. It is common sense. It is for their own best interest, much less the best interest of our communities," Scott said.
The governor's plan made no mention of arming teachers on school grounds, as Trump has suggested.
However, the Legislature's Republican leadership proposed letting teachers carry a gun if they have had law enforcement training. The legislators' plan also calls for a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases.
Democrats said neither plan goes far enough.
"Unfortunately, both plans omit a third, critically important piece of legislation Democrats have been and continue to push for: a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines," said state Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon.
Talia Rumsky, a 16-year-old Stoneman Douglas student who was at school during the shooting, was among those who traveled to Tallahassee on Wednesday to lobby lawmakers about gun control.
She said Scott's plan to make it illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase a gun is a start, but said she doesn't think it goes far enough.
"This is a great first step and we appreciate it," the sophomore said. "But it's not enough and we're going to make sure they know it's not enough and is not solving our problems."
Information for this article was contributed by Jennifer Epstein, Justin Sink, Terrence Dopp and Bill Allison of Bloomberg News; by Ken Thomas, Jill Colvin, Darlene Superville, Sadie Gurman, Brendan Farrington, Gary Fineout, Curt Anderson, Freida Frisaro, Jennifer Kay, Kelli Kennedy and Jason Dearen of The Associated Press; and by Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post.
Supporters applaud President Donald Trump as he speaks Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott unveils plans Friday in Tallahassee to raise the legal age for purchasing a gun in his state from 18 to 21. He also called for at least one trained law enforcement officer for every school.
A Section on 02/24/2018
Print Headline: Armed teachers way to go, Trump insists