President Donald Trump heard a series of heartfelt stories and pleas for change during a meeting Wednesday with people affected by some of the nation’s highest-profile deadly school shootings, including the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Andrew Pollack, a father of one of the 17 victims who died in last week’s Florida shooting, said he was speaking Wednesday because his daughter couldn’t.
“We as a country failed our children,” he said. “This shouldn’t happen.”
He asked how it was that America could protect its airports, its concerts, its embassies and even the elevators at the Department of Education, but not its schools.
“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 is fixed. And Mr. President, we’ll fix it. Because I’m going to fix it. I’m not going to rest,” he said.
“My beautiful daughter, I’m never going to see her again. It’s simple. Let’s fix it,” he said.
Justin Gruber, 15, who was affected by the Parkland shooting, said he was born after Columbine, which marked a new era in history.
“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. This has to never happen again,” he said. “People should be able to feel like when they go to school it can be safe. There needs to be a change. People need to feel safe. Parents shouldn’t have to go through the idea of losing their child.”
Trump responded to the series of emotional stories from the survivors and parents of victims from the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by pledging to get to work on school shootings “two minutes” after the listening session.
“We don’t want others to go through the kind of pain you have gone through,” Trump said. “It wouldn’t be right.”
At the beginning of the event, the President pledged to “do something” about school shootings in the brief opening of his listening session.
“We are going to do something about this horrible situation that is going on,” Trump said. “I want to listen and then after I listen, we are going to get things done.”
Trump, flanked by the students, went around the room and shook hands before opening the event.
The event, hosted in the White House’s State Dining Room, brought Trump face-to-face with students and parents who have demanded action on gun violence. The President — who was elected with the support of the National Rifle Association — has so far expressed support for regulating bump-fire stocks, which make it easier to fire rounds more quickly, and strengthening background checks for gun purchases.
During the listening session, Trump called for more mental institutions and hospitals and floated the idea of concealed carry for teachers and school staff.
“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.
“Gun-free zone to a maniac — because they’re all cowards — a gun-free zone is ‘let’s go in and let’s attack because bullets aren’t coming back at us,’ ” he said.
The event comes a week after 17 people were killed at the shooting in Parkland, Florida, a massacre that has led students, parents and teachers from the school to call on Trump to take action. Students led protests in front of the White House over the weekend and another group of students walked out of schools on Wednesday gathered in front of the White House to demand action.
To date, the Trump administration has stuck to discussing taking action on guns, not actually lobbying Congress on moving any new legislation. But White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement on Monday that Trump spoke with Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, on Friday about a bill he introduced with Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, that aims to strengthen how state and federal governments report offenses that could prohibit people from buying a gun.
“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the President is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,” Shah said. Students, teachers and lawmakers have urged Trump and other Republican lawmakers to take action on guns in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
Any action on guns would be a balancing act for Trump. His political base of Republican voters overwhelmingly disapprove of most gun control actions and the President has enjoyed the support of the NRA.
Trump has not always been deeply tied to the NRA, though.
“I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun,” he wrote in his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve.” “With today’s Internet technology, we should be able to tell within 72 hours if a potential gun owner has a record.”
Trump disavowed those statements during the 2016 campaign.
Polls have found, however, that most Americans blame Trump and Congress for not doing more on guns. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday found that 62% of respondents said Trump is not doing enough to prevent mass shootings and 77% say Congress is doing an inadequate job on the issue.
“We will be working very, very hard on that horrible, horrible issue that took place last week in Florida,” Trump said at an event on Tuesday. “We’re working very hard. We’re going to come up with solutions. It’s been many, many years, and there have been no solutions. We’re going to come up with solutions.”
By Dan Merica, CNN