U.S. President Donald Trump endorsed the idea of arming educators in the classroom during an emotional exchange with victimized students and parents of school shootings.
Also spreading former military service members throughout schools “could very well solve your problem,” Trump said in the White House State Dining room. “We’re going to be looking at it very closely.”
At one point, Trump asked: “Does everybody like that idea?”
WATCH: Victims visit Trump
A few people raised their hands. The president then asked who opposed it and more hands went up from the approximately 40 people in the room, mainly students, family members and educators directly affected by school shootings.
No arming of teachers
Later at a CNN town hall event in Florida that included survivors of last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a 19-year-old former student has been charged in the killing of 17 people, Senator Marco Rubio told the audience he does not support arming teachers.
Under questioning by students, parents and teachers, Rubio also said tighter gun laws alone will not prevent future shootings, while he does support a minimum age for buying rifles and a ban on an accessory called a bump stock that can allow the weapons to shoot more bullets more quickly.
Scott Israel, the sheriff in the county that includes Parkland, said trained deputies would carry rifles on school grounds, but rejected the idea of giving guns to teachers.
“I don’t believe teachers should be armed. I believe teachers should teach,” Israel said.
Too young to buy a gun?
Trump is set to hold another meeting on school safety Thursday at the White House, this time with state and local officials.
During Wednesday’s event, the president also called for an end to gun-free zones near schools, declared his administration “is going to be very strong on background checks” and that it will also examine raising the minimum age for purchase of guns (28 states have no such restrictions).
“If he’s not old enough to go buy a beer. He should not be able to buy a gun. It’s just common sense,” said Stoneman Douglas student Samuel Zeif, who survived last week's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a 19-year-old former student has been charged in the killing of 17 people.
“It should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it and I’m pissed. Because my daughter, I’m not going to see again,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was shot nine times and died. “King David Cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid now.”
Pollack questioned, “How many children have to get shot?”
The school’s student body president, Julia Cordover, told Trump she was “lucky enough to come home from school” and “I am confident you will do the right thing.”
Some students from the school declined invitations to attend Wednesday’s White House event and instead rallied at Florida’s state Capitol in Tallahassee to call for gun control reforms.
The president also referred to shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz as a “sick guy … who should have been nabbed.” Cruz is being held without bond on 17 counts of premeditated murder at the Broward County jail.
Emphasis on mental health
Trump put more emphasis on the mental health issue than gun control in his remarks, saying “there’s no mental institution, there’s no place to bring them” in many communities.
“It’s about the guns and the person behind the gun,” responded Nicole Hockley, who lost her 6-year-old son, Dylan, in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
At the beginning of the session, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, reading prepared remarks, said that no student or teacher should ever have to endure what those in the room had.
“My heart is broken. We’re here to have an earnest conversation. We’re here to listen to gain your important perspective on ways to reduce violence and protect students,” DeVos said.
Since the Sandy Hook killings in 2012, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide. In those episodes, 438 people were shot, 138 of whom were killed, according to Gun Violence Archive.
The president on Tuesday ordered the Justice Department to look at outlawing bump stocks, which were used in the shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, last October that killed 58 people and wounded 851 others.
The Trump administration and lawmakers are facing a backlash, including from some of the student survivors of the latest school mass shooting, that they are too focused on the mental health of gunmen rather than the weapons they carry.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week said 86 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats said stricter gun control laws could have prevented the Florida shooting, while 67 percent who identified as Republicans said stricter laws could not have prevented the massacre.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence on Wednesday called for Congress to immediately pass legislation to make it significantly harder for deadly weapons to be used by dangerous people.
“Americans of every age and background are calling ‘BS’ on the lack of action from congress and the president. Americans aren’t more dangerous or more criminally inclined than people in other nations, but we have the highest rate of gun deaths in the developed world. That’s because our laws continue to allow easy access to the deadliest weapons, and it is well past the time to change those laws,” said Brady Campaign Co-president Avery Gardiner.
The organization and others blame the powerful National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups for their campaign contributions to lawmakers for a lack of action.
“With all 435 seats in the House and 34 seats in the Senate up for re-election in November, it is time for them to act. If not, we’ll vote them out,” Gardiner said.
The Brady organization is named after former White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was shot along with President Ronald Reagan outside a Washington hotel in 1981.