WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Thursday intensified his calls for arming highly trained teachers as part of an effort to fortify schools against shootings such as the one that occurred in Parkland, Fla., last week, even as he denounced active-shooter drills that try to prepare students to survive a rampage.
"I want certain highly adept people, people who understand weaponry, guns" to have a permit to carry concealed firearms in schools, Trump said during his second White House meeting in two days to discuss how to respond to the shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Teachers who were qualified to handle a weapon -- Trump estimated between 10 percent and 40 percent -- would receive "a little bit of a bonus," he said, adding that he would devote federal money to training them.
"I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected," the president said.
Trump, who is under pressure to embrace stiffer gun restrictions after the Parkland massacre, appears to have seized instead upon the idea of giving educators weapons, a proposal backed by the National Rifle Association, which has pressed for nationwide expansion of the right to carry a concealed firearm.
The NRA advocated for arming teachers in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children dead.
The president also said Thursday that he believed that the powerful gun lobby would support a move to raise the age threshold for purchasing firearms to 21 from 18 -- a Trump spokesman later clarified he was speaking specifically about semi-automatic weapons -- as well as enhanced background checks for people seeking to buy guns.
The president's age-restriction proposal came just hours after the NRA affirmed its opposition, calling such a restriction an infringement on gun owners' rights.
The president made his comments as he convened law enforcement, state and local officials at the White House to discuss a range of proposals that could prevent future school-shooting massacres. They arrived a day after he held an emotional session at the White House where parents, students and teachers affected by the Parkland rampage and other school shootings begged him to take action, and as a wave of student-led activism continued to spread in favor of changing gun laws.
Some lawmakers appeared to be feeling the pressure to act. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Thursday that a visit to the Stoneman Douglas school prompted him to change his stance on large-capacity gun magazines. Rubio insisted he is willing to rethink his past opposition on gun proposals if there is information that the policies would prevent mass shootings.
"If we are going to infringe on the Second Amendment, it has to be a policy that will work," Rubio said in an interview.
Trump also acknowledged the pressure to pass some kind of safety legislation.
"There's a tremendous feeling that we want to get something done," Trump said in the Roosevelt Room on Thursday, adding that the NRA -- which has strongly backed him -- shares the sentiment. "We're going to take action," he said.
The president's confidence that Congress could agree on and pass gun safety legislation flew in the face of decades of experience in which the anger and calls to action that follow a horrific shooting have dissipated quickly after powerful resistance from the pro-gun lobby, and changes in the law have ultimately proved impossible.
Still, lawmakers led by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., were busy drafting a bill that would apply more broadly than just to assault-style rifles such as the AR-15 used in the Florida shootings. It would raise the age requirement for all rifles.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was skeptical the president would follow though on his vow to press for changes in gun laws.
"The last time he showed support for sensible gun reform -- no fly, no buy -- he quickly dropped his support once the NRA opposed it. I hope this time will be different," the minority leader said in a statement, referring to a measure backed by Democrats to prevent people on a terrorism-related "no fly" list from buying guns.
Indeed, it is not clear that the GOP-controlled Congress, which is in recess, will take up or act on a variety of legislative proposals that have been made to address gun violence. Those include measures to expand federal background checks, allow authorities to issue emergency orders to take guns from people identified as a threat to themselves or others, and raise the minimum age for rifle purchases to 21.
The current federal minimum age for buying handguns from registered dealers is 21, but the limit in most places is 18 for rifles, including assault-style weapons such as the AR-15. In some states -- mostly rural states with a strong tradition of hunting -- young people can buy a rifle at age 14 or 16.
Trump said he was not in favor of one step that schools around the nation have increasingly taken to defend themselves and their students against school shooters: holding drills to practice what to do.
"Active-shooter drills is a very negative thing," Trump said after Pam Stewart, the Florida Department of Education commissioner, mentioned such preparations. "I don't like it. I'd much rather have a hardened school."
Trump added that active-shooter drills were "crazy" and "very hard on children."
Although he faces resistance from the NRA on raising the minimum age to purchase assault-style rifles, Trump defended the gun lobby Thursday and predicted that it would side with him on the issue.
"I don't think I'll be going up against them," said Trump, who campaigned with the support of the NRA and has been an ardent advocate of gun rights. "They're good people."
In a tweet earlier Thursday, Trump said the NRA "will do the right thing."
VOICES OF NRA
The head of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since the Parkland shooting and criticized Democrats calling for more gun-control laws.
"Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms," LaPierre said, speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
LaPierre added: "Evil walks among us. And God help us if we don't harden our schools and protect our kids."
The NRA chief's speech came on the heels of the NRA releasing a video claiming that "the mainstream media love mass shootings." The video argued that members of the media benefit from covering mass shootings and use them "to juice their ratings and push their agenda."
Since the rampage at Stoneman Douglas, media coverage has been dominated by the attack's survivors, who responded with a push of furious activism. Teenagers who hid in closets and ran for their lives quickly began calling for increased gun control, assailing the NRA and organizing around their message.
The survivors called for new gun restrictions in a rally Wednesday in Tallahassee, the Florida capital, and then reiterated the pleas that night at an open meeting hosted by CNN and attended by lawmakers and Dana Loesch, an NRA spokesman.
Loesch, speaking Thursday before LaPierre the conference, echoed the NRA's advertisement and castigated the news media with racially charged remarks.
"Many in legacy media love mass shootings," Loesch said. "I'm not saying that you love the tragedy. But I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold."
Loesch questioned why there was a nationally televised town hall-style meeting after one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history but no similar event for "thousands of grieving black mothers in Chicago every weekend."
During her appearance Wednesday on CNN, Loesch sought to direct the discussion toward who should be able to obtain firearms, highlighting numerous red flags in the shooting suspect's past, including concerns from school officials and a warning ignored by the FBI.
The suspect had no criminal record and was able to purchase his guns legally, officials said. Loesch sharply questioned how law enforcement authorities had handled warnings about the suspect, and criticized what she called "flawed" background-check systems.
Loesch also said she condemned those at the FBI who fumbled warnings about the shooter. "The government has proven it cannot keep you safe," she said.
David Bowdich, acting deputy director of the FBI, said Thursday that he was concerned about his agency's public standing.
"When I look through the prism of risk for our organization, I find the No. 1 risk for our organization is losing the faith and confidence of the American people," Bowdich said in response to a question about attacks on the bureau, including those by the NRA.
Critics of the NRA dismissed its comments, which Schumer called "pathetic, out of touch ideas." Some gun-control groups also questioned why the NRA was being given such a prominent platform in the debate, both by CNN and in Trump's remarks.
"I am so outraged that the NRA is being given a seat at the table, whether its by the media or by the president," said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, an advocacy group seeking gun restrictions. "We're acting as though lobbyists have a right to have a say, or to help us write our nation's gun policies. They don't."
In Florida, meanwhile, funerals continued. And a sheriff's deputy who had been on duty at the school but never went inside to confront the shooter resigned after being suspended without pay.
The school resource officer at the high school took up a position viewing the western entrance of the building that was under attack for more than four minutes but "he never went in," Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a Thursday news conference. The shooting lasted about six minutes.
The officer, Scot Peterson, was suspended without pay and placed under investigation, then chose to resign, Israel said. When asked what Peterson should have done, Israel said the deputy should have "went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer."
A telephone message left at a listing for Peterson wasn't immediately returned.
The sheriff said he was "devastated, sick to my stomach. There are no words. I mean, these families lost their children. .... I've been to the funerals. ... I've been to the vigils. It's just, ah, there are no words."
There was also a communication problem between the person reviewing the school's security system footage and officers who responded to the school.
Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi said Thursday that the footage being reviewed was 20 minutes old, so the responding officers were hearing that the shooter was in a certain place while officers already in that location were saying that wasn't the case.
"There was nothing wrong with their equipment. Their equipment works," Pustizzi said. "It's just that when the person was reviewing the tape from 20 minutes earlier, somehow that wasn't communicated to the officers that it was a 20-minute delay."
Pustizzi said the confusion didn't put anyone in danger.
Shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been jailed on 17 counts of murder, and court filings show that Cruz told authorities that he carried out the attack.
Information for this article was contributed by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Eileen Sullivan of The New York Times; by Mark Berman, David Weigel, Michael Scherer, Matt Zapotosky and Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post; and by Jill Colvin, Matthew Daly, Catherine Lucey, Ken Thomas, Darlene Superville, Alan Fram, Sadie Gurman, Zeke Miller, John Hanna, Brendan Farrington, Gary Fineout, Terry Spencer, Freida Frisaro, Curt Anderson, Kelli Kennedy, Joe Reedy, Tamara Lush and Alex Sanz of The Associated Press.
Members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School football team attend the funeral Thursday in Coral Springs, Fla., for assistant football coach Aaron Feis, who was killed in the shooting at the school last week. Players carried Feis’ casket into the church for the service.
Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, takes the stage Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md., where he criticized Democrats for seeking more gun-control laws. “Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms,” LaPierre said.
Dana Loesch, a spokesperson for the NRA, who addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference before LaPierre, said that “many in legacy media love mass shootings because of the ratings. “Crying white mothers are ratings gold,” she said.
A Section on 02/23/2018
Print Headline: Arm teachers, give bonuses, Trump says; But he disparages as ‘crazy’ schools’ active-shooter drills