WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Columbine. Newtown. And now, Parkland.
Spilling out wrenching tales of lost lives and security stolen, students and parents appealed to President Donald Trump on Wednesday to set politics aside and protect America’s school children from the scourge of gun violence. Trump listened intently to the raw emotion and pledged action, including the possibility of arming teachers.
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What was dubbed a “listening session” turned into an expression of anguish and emotion.
“I was born into a world where I never got to experience safety and peace,” Parkland shooting survivor Justin Gruber said. “There needs to be significant change in this country.”
A strong supporter of gun rights, Trump has nonetheless indicated in recent days that he is willing to consider ideas not in keeping with National Rifle Association orthodoxy, included age restrictions for buying assault-type weapons. The president is facing growing calls for action on gun control after the mass shooting that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida.
“I was lucky enough to get my son home, but 17 families it’s… this is, it’s not left and right. It’s not political, it’s a human issue,” Justin’s father, Cary said to Trump. “People are dying.”
“All these school shootings, it doesn’t make sense,” one outraged father proclaimed. “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 at King David Cemetery. That’s where I go to see my kid, now.”
The president vowed things will changed, suggesting that teachers should carry concealed weapons on school campuses.
“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack quickly,” Trump said.
Some of the victim’s parents confronted lawmakers during a town hall in Florida Wednesday night.
“Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids at the school this week,” Fred Guttenburg said to Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “Look at me and tell me you will accept it and work with us to do something about guns.”
Television personality Geraldo Rivera had dinner with Trump at his private Palm Beach club over the weekend and described Trump as “deeply affected” by his visit Friday with Parkland survivors. In an email, Rivera said he and Trump discussed the idea of raising the minimum age to purchase assault-type weapons.
Trump “suggested strongly that he was going to act to strengthen background checks,” Rivera said.
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment. Trump embraced gun rights on his campaign, though he supported some gun control before he became a candidate, backing an assault weapons ban and a longer waiting period to purchase a gun in a 2000 book.
Throughout the day Wednesday, television news showed footage of student survivors of the violence marching on the Florida state Capitol, calling for tougher laws. The protests came closer to Trump, too, with hundreds of students from suburban Maryland attending a rally at the Capitol and then marching to the White House.
Daniel Gelillo, a senior at Richard Montgomery High who helped organize the protest, said students were hoping to pressure lawmakers to act. He said that “up ’til now nothing has quite fazed them.”
On Tuesday, Trump directed the Justice Department to move to ban devices like the rapid-fire bump stocks used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre. It was a small sign of movement on the gun violence issue that has long tied Washington in knots.
“We must do more to protect our children,” Trump said.
Asked at a press briefing Tuesday if Trump was open to reinstating a ban on assault-type weapons, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House officials “haven’t closed the door on any front.” She also said that the idea of raising the age limit to buy an AR-15 was “on the table for us to discuss.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and leading advocate for tighter gun control, said Trump’s directive on bump stocks suggested the president was aware of fresh energy on the issue and called it a sign that “for the first time” politicians are “scared of the political consequences of inaction on guns.”
A bipartisan legislative effort to ban bump stocks last year fizzled out. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced in December that it was reviewing whether weapons that use the devices should be considered illegal machine guns under federal law.
Under the Obama administration, the ATF had concluded that bump stocks did not violate federal law. But the acting director of the ATF told lawmakers in December that the ATF and Justice Department would not have initiated the review if a ban “wasn’t a possibility at the end.”
The Justice Department had not made any announcement regarding its review when Trump on Tuesday signed a memorandum directing the agency to complete it as soon as possible and propose a rule “banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns.”
Some Democrats argued the proper way to handle bump stocks was through legislation.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years, and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold.”
Earlier, a White House statement said Trump was looking at a bill that would strengthen federal gun background checks.
That bill was developed in response to a mass shooting last November in which a gunman slaughtered more than two dozen people at a Texas church. It would penalize federal agencies that don’t properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences. The measure, which is pending in the Senate, was drafted after the Air Force acknowledged that it failed to report the Texas gunman’s domestic violence conviction to the National Criminal Information Center database.
The GOP-controlled House paired the background checks bill with a measure making it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines, a top priority of the National Rifle Association.
Democratic Sen. Murphy said any attempt to combine background checks with concealed-carry provisions would significantly jeopardize the chances of passing a bipartisan overhaul of the system.
Among the steps sought by gun control advocates: closing loopholes that permit loose private sales on the internet and at gun shows, banning assault-type weapons and passing laws to enable family members, guardians or police to ask judges to strip gun rights temporarily from people who show warning signs of violence.
On background checks, Trump has suggested he is open to a bipartisan bill developed in response to a mass shooting at a Texas church. It would penalize federal agencies that don’t properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the bill is “a small step,” stressing that Democrats want to see universal background check legislation.
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said Wednesday that he’ll probably reintroduce bipartisan legislation that would require background checks for all gun purchases online and at gun shows. He said he planned to discuss the idea with Trump.
The Parkland shooting also has prompted the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to take a fresh look at gun control legislation, although so far GOP leaders are refusing to endorse calls to ban assault rifles. Still, the discussion of some types of gun control legislation is a turnaround for Florida, which some have dubbed the “Gunshine State” for its gun policies.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)