U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a listening session with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors and students at the White House in Washington, Feb. 21, 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a listening session with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors and students at the White House in Washington, Feb. 21, 2018.

THE WHITE HOUSE

 

Office of the Press Secretary

________________________________________________________________

                       For Immediate Release                          February 21, 2018

 

 

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT TRUMP

AND VICE PRESIDENT PENCE

AT LISTENING SESSION WITH

STUDENTS, TEACHERS, AND PARENTS

 

State Dining Room

 

 

 

4:21 P.M. EST

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Have a seat. 

 

It's a great honor to have you here, and we're going to be listening to some of your suggestions.  I've heard some of them, and we're going to do something about this horrible situation that's going on.  And we're going to all figure it out together.

 

So I want to listen, and then after I listen, we're going to get things done.

 

I thought we'd start off -- Pastor, if you could possibly say the prayer, it would be appreciated.  Thank you.

 

PASTOR URRABAZO:  (A prayer is given.)

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, Pastor.  Appreciate it.

 

     Vice President, you wanted to say and I'd like you to say a few words.  And I'd like to then introduce you to Betsy DeVos, who most of you know and some of you have met a little while ago.

 

     Mike, what do you have to say?

 

     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  First off, thank you, Mr. President.  I want to thank the families from Parkland for being here, and assure you of the deepest condolences and sympathies of the First Family and our family, and of the American people. 

 

     As the President said last week, the American people are united with one heart, broken by what took place.  But the President called this meeting for us as much to talk about what's happened in our country over the last 20 years, and to find out from all of you gathered here, by listening, by learning, how we might ensure that this is the last time this ever happens. 

 

     I, along with the President, are deeply moved by the stories of heroism and courage.  And I'm candidly moved by the courage that it takes for many of you to be here today.  And what I just want to encourage you to do is tell us your stories.  America is looking on.  And your President, our entire administration, leaders around the country at every level are looking on.  And we want to hear your hearts today.  I encourage you to be candid and be vulnerable, and share with us not only this personal experience, but what it is that you would have us to do. 

 

     And just know that as the President has already taken action, he'll be meeting in this very room in the coming days with governors from all 50 states to make school safety the top priority of this administration and across this country.

 

     The President and I wanted to hear from you all first.  And so I want to say thank you for coming, thank you for the courage and being willing to be here and share your hearts.  And just, from our family to your family, just God bless you and comfort you.

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Mike, very much.  Betsy.

 

     SECRETARY DEVOS:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Students, teachers, parents: Thanks for being here.  For many of you, you've lived through something unthinkable.  For many of you it's raw and fresh. 

 

     I admire your strength and bravery to come share your experience with the President, the Vice President, and the world.  No student, no parent, no teacher should ever have to endure what you all have. 

 

And my heart is broken.  What happened last week shocked us, it angers us, and it pains us. 

 

We are here to have an earnest conversation about why this tragedy, and too many others before it, happened, and how we can work to find solutions.  We're here to listen, to gain your important perspective on ways to reduce violence and to protect students. 

 

Our hope is that by talking and by listening, we can make something that was unthinkably bad, something good.  And your loss and your trauma must never be in vain.  So thank you again for being here, and let's get started.

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, Betsy.  And I just want to say before we really begin -- because I want to hear your input -- we're going to be very strong on background checks.  We're going to be doing very strong background checks.  Very strong emphasis on the mental health of somebody.  And we are going to do plenty of other things. 

 

Again, next week, the governors are coming in from most of the states, and we're going to have a very serious talk about what's going on with school safety.  Very important.  And we're going to cover every aspect of it.  There are many ideas that I have.  There are many ideas that other people have.  And we're going to pick out the strongest ideas, the most important ideas, the ideas that are going to work.  And we're going to get them done.  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. 

 

     So, again, I want to thank you all for being here.  And I'd like to hear your story.  And I'd also like to, if you have any suggestions for the future based on this horrible experience that you've gone through -- I'd love to have those ideas.

 

How about we start with you. 

 

     MS. CORDOVER:  All right.  Thank you, Mr. President, for having me here.  My name is Julia Cordover, and I'm from Stoneman Douglas High School, and I was there during the shooting.  And I am a survivor. 

 

     And I want you guys all to emphasize the point that I survived.  I was lucky enough to come home from school, unlike some of my other classmates and teachers.  And it's very scary.  And knowing that a lot of people did not have this opportunity to be here still is mind-blowing.  And I'm just -- I feel like there is a lot to do, and I really appreciate you hosting me and what you are saying.  I'm confident that you'll do the right thing, and I appreciate you looking at the bump stocks yesterday.  That means it is definitely a step in the right direction, and I think we can all agree on that. 

 

     There's definitely a lot more to go, but I am just grateful that I'm here and that we can try to work out something.  Maybe compromise on some solution so this never has to -- no child, no person in this world will ever have to go something -- through so horrific and tragic.  And my thoughts and prayers are out to everyone there.  So, thank you. 

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  I really appreciate it. 

 

     MR. BLANK:  Hello, my name is Jonathan Blank.  I go to Stoneman Douglas, and I was actually in the second classroom that was shot at.  In my mind, as a kid, nothing ever that horrible should ever have to happen to you.  You can't even think about it.  It doesn't even seem real still.  Everything seems fake.  I can't even -- I don't even know what's going on.  It's just crazy, everything happening.  It's just so tragic. 

 

Thank you for everything.  You've done a great job, and I like the direction that you're going in.  Thank you. 

 

     MRS. BLANK:  My name is Melissa Blank.  Jonathan is my son.  And I am a teacher's aide at Westglades Middle School that was also on lockdown.  So I couldn't get in touch with my son to find out if my son was alive or not.  I feel for all of these families.  My heart is just broken for my whole community.  We're coming together.  I feel for all the families who have lost, and I feel for the ones that are here because we now have almost a guilt like I have.  Why not my child?  Which I feel bad saying I'm happy that he's here with me.  But I feel so bad for all of you who have lost so many.  And I'm just begging for a change.  We need a change.

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you. 

 

     MRS. ABT:  Do you mind -- may I pass the microphone back to my daughter, because I think she has some nice solutions and -- if that's okay with you. 

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  Sure. 

 

     MRS. ABT:  Thank you. 

 

     MS. ABT:  Hi, my name is Carson Abt.  I am a junior, and I was at Marjory Stoneman Douglas at the time of the shooting.  And I know there are a lot of different solutions that we can go through to help eradicate this issue, but one that stuck out to me was about all the drills and protocols that my teachers had to go through.  They knew what to do once the code red for an active shooter was announced.  But, through research, I found that only 32 states require drills.  But of those 32 states, more than half of the counties do not go through the drills because they want to spend their resources towards something else. 

 

     And I know that a bill was also passed that declared that each school has to go through one drill each month.  But I know that my school, we go through fire drills every month, and we have not had our lockdown drill yet this year. 

 

And I think a change that will increase all of the trainings and protocols, so if God forbid another shooting does happen, at least all the teachers will be prepared and can hopefully keep their students calm. 

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  That's great.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.

 

     MS. KLEIN:  Hi, my name is Ariana Klein.  I would just like to say thank you for leading this country.  You're a great leader, and I appreciate the direction that the country is going in. 

 

     I'm a junior; I attend Stoneman Douglas.  And I just want to say that everybody right now is so stuck on what they believe, that they're not even listening to what other people believe.  We need to listen to the other points of views.  We all need to realize that we all have different points of views and that we need -- this solution is not going to be a singular thing.  It's going to be multi-faceted and it's going to be created by a collection of different people working together.

 

And we all have to realize that we all have our opinions, and together we're going to be able to work to a solution.  And this is not just Parkland anymore, this is America.  This is every student in every city, everywhere.  It's everybody.  It's not small.  It's everything. 

 

     And I'd just like to say thank you for having us.

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  I appreciate it. 

 

     MR. ABT:  My name is Fred Abt.  I'm Carson's dad.  I'm going to pass the microphone along to some of the other students.  If we have a chance later on, perhaps I'll speak or other parents could speak.  But I'd like students to get their chance. 

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thanks.  Very nice. 

 

     MR. GRUBER, JR.:  My name is Justin Gruber, and I was at the school at the time of the massacre.  I'm only 15 years old.  I'm a sophomore.  Nineteen years ago, the first school shooting, Columbine -- at Columbine High School happened.  And I was born into a world where I never got to experience safety and peace.

 

    There needs to be a significant change in this country because this has to never happen again.  And people should be able to feel that, when they go to school, they can be safe.  And -- because there needs to be a change -- I'm sorry.  People need to feel safe.  And parents shouldn't have to go through the idea of losing their child.  As I know, from my dad, he was panicking and he couldn't imagine it.  So that shouldn't even be a possibility that should go through a parent's mind.  There needs to be some change.  Thank you. 

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much. 

 

     MR. GRUBER, SR.:  I'm Cary Gruber, Justin's dad.  And I'll be brief.  You know, Justin was texting me, hiding in a closet, saying, "If something happens, I love you.  If something happens, I love you."  And you can't imagine what that's like as a parent.  And then his phone died, and I didn't know what happened for another hour or so. 

 

So, 17 lives are gone.  I was lucky enough to get my son home, but 17 families -- this is -- it's not left and right, it's not political.  It's a human issue.  People are dying.  And we have to stop this.  We have to stop.  If he's not old enough to buy a drink -- to go and buy a beer, he should not be able to buy a gun at 18 years old.  I mean, that's just a common sense.  We have to do common sense.  Please, Mr. Trump, these are things we have to do. 

 

     In Israel, you have to be 27 years old to have a gun.  You're only allowed one.  They tax the guns.  You have to go through significant training.  

 

     We got to do something about this.  We cannot have our children die.  This is just heartbreaking.  Please.  Thank you.

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you. 

 

     MS. MORRIS:  Hi, my name is Shannon Morris.  I'm a local administrator for a school in D.C., and I really want to continue the conversation for our students.

 

     MS. MARCUS:  Hi, my name is Vielka Marcus, and I'm also a local educator here in Washington, D.C. for Friendship Public Charter Schools.  So I will allow our students that are here to voice their opinions, as well as give some of their ideas to do that at this time. 

 

And my condolences and my heart truly go out to not just the families that have lost children in this horrific, horrific incident that has occurred, but also to our families here in the District of Columbia that experience gun violence outside of our schools that directly impact our schools because they are our students.

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

 

MS. BARNETT:  Hello.  My name is Alaya Barnett, and I go to the Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy in the heart of Southeast D.C.  

 

My condolences to every family here that experienced the shooting and all the students that experienced that.  And I'm here on behalf of my school and all of the Friendship Schools in D.C. to be able to prevent those kind of things happening at our school.  Because in Southeast D.C., we do encounter a lot of violence and things -- most of the time at night, but a lot of the times it's in the daytime too.

 

So our schools, we do take preventative measures and everything to stop that.  Like, we check bags at the door and everything.  And it does make us -- at first, we're like, "No, we don't want to do this."  But then we realize it's for our safety.

 

But we wanted to make sure that it continues and that nothing can ever slip up for these things to happen like in school.  Counseling for our students who are struggling with fear and bullying.  Bullying triggers emotions that would make a student want to bring a weapon to school to protect themselves or to get revenge for a person that did something to them.

 

So we just want to have a lot of preventative measures to be in the schools -- and also outside of school -- to make sure that nothing can happen to us while we're in school.

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

 

MAYOR HUNSCHOFSKY:  Hello, Mr. President.  Thank you for having us.  I'm Christine Hunschofsky.  I'm the mayor of the city of Parkland. 

 

We have a great city.  It's been one of the safest cities in America.  And the fact that this happened in our city means it can happen anywhere. 

 

We are blessed that we are a very close-knit, family-oriented city, and our community is coming together.  We lost 17 lives, but the ripple effects throughout the community are devastating.  I have spent the last week going to funerals -- friends of mine that lost their children.

 

We have to, at some point, care enough and be strong enough to come up with solutions.  And I hope we will.  And if I might, I had two parents who lost children this past week text me some of their thoughts, if I might share them with you.

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

 

MAYOR HUNSCHOFSKY:  Thank you.  I spoke to Jennifer and Tony Montalto.  They just buried their daughter Gina yesterday. 

 

And their comments were -- so Tony is a airline pilot.  And he said he supports the Second Amendment, but he does not believe there is a need for assault rifles.  He also said that the FBI, there were signs missed.  And it reminded him of 9/11.  So we do have to work on making sure that our protocols are in place so that people don't slip through the cracks, literally, in this case.

 

We also talked about the red flag laws.  I think there's a little progress being made in Florida now on the red flag laws, which is, when somebody shows signs of hurting themselves or someone else, you can take their gun away from them.

 

Fred Guttenberg, a service for his daughter Jaime was last week, on Friday.  And he would like the administration to publicly acknowledge the role of guns.  Now, these two parents talked about guns, and there are absolutely lots of areas where there's room for improvement -- lots of areas -- from mental health, from teacher training.  But also -- part of that is also the gun issue.  So it's not that it's just those and not the gun; it's all of them. 

 

     And in the debate world, in the high school debate world, the kids talk about when they bring up legislation, you want to have impacts.  You're not bringing up legislation that doesn’t have a positive impact.  And what is the positive impact of having legislation that stops assault rifles -- bans assault rifles?  It could save a life.  And that needs to be a priority in any case.  And when we talk about rights -- so we have the right for free speech, but if free speech in any way endangers someone, it gets restricted. 

 

     And I think -- I appreciate that we're coming here to listen, and I appreciate that we're coming here to look at all different perspectives, because we need action and we need to be solution-oriented.

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Appreciate it.  Thank you.

 

     MR. POLLACK:  We're here because my daughter has no voice.  She was murdered last week, and she was taken from us.  Shot nine times on the third floor. 

 

     We, as a country, failed our children.  This shouldn’t happen.  We go to the airport -- I can't get on a plane with a bottle of water.  But we leave it -- some animal can walk into a school and shoot our children.  It's just not right, and we need to come together as a country and work on what's important, and that's protecting our children in the schools.  That's the only thing that matters right now.  Everyone has to come together and not think about different laws.  We need to come together, as a country -- not different parties -- and figure out how we protect the schools.  It's simple.  It's not difficult.

 

     We protect airports.  We protect concerts, stadiums, embassies, the Department of Education that I walked in today that has a security guard in the elevator.  How do you think that makes me feel?  In the elevator, they got a security guard. 

 

     I'm very angry that this happened, because it keeps happening.  9/11 happened once, and they fixed everything.  How many schools, how many children have to get shot?  It stops here with this administration and me.  I'm not going to sleep until it's fixed. 

 

     And, Mr. President, we're going to fix it, because I'm going to fix it.  I'm not going to rest.  And look it, my boys need to live with this.  I want to see everyone -- you guys look at this.  Me, I'm a man, but to see your children go through this, bury their sister.

 

     So that's why I'm keep saying this, because I want it to sink in, not forget about this.  We can't forget about it.  All these school shootings, it doesn’t make sense.  Fix it.  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.  She's not here.  She's not here.  She's in North Lauderdale, at -- whatever it is -- King David Cemetery.  That's where I go to see my kid now.  And it stops if we all work together and come up with the right idea.  And it's school safety.  It's not about gun laws right now; that's another fight, another battle.  Let's fix the schools, and then you guys can battle it out, whatever you want.

 

     But we need our children safe.  Monday, tomorrow, whatever day it is, your kids are going to go to school.  You think everyone's kids are safe?  I didn’t think it was going to happen to me.  If I knew that, I would have been at the school every day if I knew it was that dangerous.

 

     It's enough.  Let's get together and work with the President and fix the schools.  That's it.  No other discussions.  Security, whatever we have to do -- get the right people, the consultants.  These are our commodities.  I'm never going to see my kid again.  I want you all to know that.  Never, ever will I see my kid.  That's how -- I want it to sink in.  It's eternity.  My beautiful daughter, I'm never going to see again.

 

     And it's simple.  It's not -- we could fix -- this is my son Huck, who has to deal with this too.  You have something to say, son?

 

     MR. HUCK POLLACK:  I just want to add that it's imperative to the safety of everyone to support the free market and free flow of ideas, and listen to people on -- listen to radical opinions on both sides.  And that's how we'll find solutions.  You let people battle it out in a free flow of ideas.  Censorship has got to stop.  And that's how we find the solutions, by listening to everyone, having an open mind. 

 

     MR. POLLACK:  This is my son Hunter.

 

     MR. HUNTER POLLACK:  How are you?  I'm Hunter Pollack, class of '15, Marjory Stoneman Douglas.  I walked the same hallways where Meadow got shot and all 16 other victims.

 

     First off, I want to thank Mr. President for having us.  We had a very effective meeting before we walked in this room. 

 

     Mr. Vice President, as well, and Madam Secretary, I put all of my trust into them and my father that, together, that we'll be able to find a solution.

 

     And that's all I have to say.  Thank you for having us.

 

     MR. ZEIF:  Hi, my name is Sam Zeif.  I'm a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland.  And I just want to take a second first to thank you for having me, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Madam Secretary. 

 

     I was on the second floor in that building, texting my mom, texting my dad, texting three of my brothers that I was never going to see them again.  And then it occurred to me that my 14-year-old brother was directly above me in that classroom where Scott Beigel was murdered. 

 

     Scott Beigel got my brother in the class.  He was the last kid to get back into that class.  And I'm sure a lot of you have read my texts on the Internet with my brother.  I didn't plan for them to go viral.  I just wanted to share with the world, because no brothers, or sisters, or family members, or anyone should ever have to share those texts with anyone.

 

     And that's why I'm here.  I lost a best friend, who's 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.  To feel like this, ever, I can't feel comfortable in my country knowing that people have, will have, are ever going to feel like this. 

 

     And I want to feel safe at school.  You know, senior year and junior year, they were big years for me, when I turned my academics around, started connecting with teachers, and I started actually enjoying school.  And now, I don't know how I'm ever going to step foot on that place again, or go to a public park after school, or be walking anywhere.  Me and my friends, we get scared when a car drives by -- anywhere. 

 

     And I think I agree with Hunter and Huck, and how we need to let ideas flow and get the problem solved.  I don't understand.  I turned 18 the day after.  Woke up to the news that my best friend was gone.  And I don't understand why I could still go in a store and buy a weapon of war -- an AR. 

 

     I was reading today that a person, 20 years old, walked into a store and bought an AR-15 in five minutes with an expired ID.  How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon?  How did we not stop this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook?  I'm sitting with a mother that lost her son, and it's still happening. 

 

     In Australia, there was a shooting at a school in 1999.  And you know, after that, they took a lot of ideas, they put legislation together, and they stopped it.  Can anyone here guess how many shootings there have been in the schools since then in Australia?  Zero. 

 

     We need to do something, and that's why we're here.  So let's be strong for the fallen who don't have a voice to speak anymore.  And let's never let this happen again.  Please.  Please. 

 

     MS. HOCKLEY:  Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Madam Secretary, my story is far too well known.  I had two sons who were at Sandy Hook school.  My eldest, who was eight at the time, survived.  And my 6-year-old son Dylan did not.

 

     And I have been working tirelessly on this issue for over five years now.  The organization that I help lead, Sandy Hook Promise, is very focused on keeping kids safe at school --  because no parent should go through this.  Every parent who sends their kid to school should know, without any question in their mind, that they're going to be coming home that day.

 

     This is not a difficult issue.  You're absolutely right.  There are solutions, and this administration has