WASHINGTON — In a somber meeting with parents and students grieving over last week’s deadly shooting at a South Florida high school, President Donald Trump promised “to do something” to address the nation’s spate of mass shootings, including the possibility of arming schoolteachers.
“We’re going to settle this all together. We don’t want others to go through the kind of pain you’ve gone through,” Trump said at a listening session on school shootings held at the White House a week after 17 students and school faculty were shot dead by a 19-year-old gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Trump, sitting with students, families and school administrators affected by school shootings, including six students from Douglas High School and parents who lost their children in shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Columbine High School in Colorado, called on the group to offer their suggestions.
One parent suggested arming teachers, an idea that Trump said should be discussed, but that others in the room rejected.
“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 said.
“It would be teachers and coaches. If the coach had a firearm in his locker . . . he wouldn’t have had to run. He would have shot and that would have been the end of it,” Trump said, apparently referring to Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach and Douglas school security guard who was gunned down trying to shield other students.
Mark Barden, whose son was killed in Sandy Hook, and whose wife continues to work as a schoolteacher in the Bronx, argued against the idea, telling Trump “schoolteachers have enough responsibility,” and noting that several school shooters had suicidal tendencies and would not fear the prospect of being shot by a teacher.
“No one wants to see a shootout in the school,” Barden said.
That sentiment was echoed at a town hall forum on school shootings hosted by CNN Wednesday night just miles away from the Parkland shooting.
Lawmakers and a teacher at Douglas High who said she voted for Trump voiced their opposition to arming teachers.
“Am I supposed to get extra training now to serve and protect on top of educating students,” teacher Ashley Kurth asked at the televised forum that featured Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
Rubio and Nelson both rejected the idea of teachers carrying weapons, with Nelson saying it wouldn’t be a “fair fight” to arm a teacher with a handgun to combat a shooter with access to a semi-automatic weapon.
National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch, appearing at the forum, said she did not “believe that this insane monster should have been able to obtain a firearm,” referring to Cruz. She stopped short of answering a student who asked if the NRA supported making it more difficult to purchase semi-automatic weapons in the wake of the shooting.
“None of us support people who are . . . a danger to themselves getting their hands on” firearms, Loesch said.
Earlier Wednesday at the White House, Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow, 18, was killed at Douglas, made an impassioned speech for action, asking those on hand, including Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, “How many schools, how many children have to get shot?”
“We’re here because my daughter has no voice — she was murdered last week, she was taken from us, shot nine times on the third floor,” Pollack said, flanked by his three sons.
Pollack said the country had “failed our children” and called on lawmakers to “fix the schools first.”
“We go to the airport. I can’t get on a plane with a bottle of water. But . . . some animal can walk into a school and shoot our children,” Pollack said.
Sam Zeiff, 18, a student at Douglas High, told the president he couldn’t imagine stepping foot back in the school where his best friend was shot to death, and called for a ban on assault rifles.
“I don’t understand why I can still go into a store and buy a weapon of war . . . how is it that easy to buy this type of weapon?” Zeiff said, referring to the AR-15 used in the shooting, purchased legally by shooter Nikolas Cruz, who has a long history of mental illness.
Trump told the gathering that in the past two days he has voiced his support for improvements to federal background checks for gun purchases, and has called on the Justice Department to craft legislation that would ban the sale of bump stocks and other devices that turn semi-automatic guns into rapid-fire rifles.
“It’s not going to be talk like it has been in the past. It’s been going on too long. Too many instances, and we’re going to get it done,” Trump said.