The administration billed the event as a listening session in the wake of the Florida mass shooting, but it quickly turned into a powerful and heartbreaking moment in the decades-long debate over gun control as survivors and family members stood up and called on lawmakers to come up with solutions to gun violence.
“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,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“I’m very angry that this happened, because it keeps happening,” Pollack added, while speaking directly to the camera. “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 gets fixed.”
Vice President Mike Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky joined Trump at the event, as well as dozens of parents and survivors of the Florida shooting and the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting.
Trump listened while survivors spoke during the event, but he later used the school shooting in Florida to make a case for looser laws on concealed carry permits. He proposed that arming 20 percent of teaching staff at schools may be effective at quickly ending attacks.
“If he had a firearm ... he would have shot and that would have ended,” Trump said about Stoneman Douglas coach Aaron Feis, who was slain.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters Wednesday that last week’s shooter bypassed the school’s armed officer.
In addition to suggesting ending gun-free school zones, Trump proposed opening more hospitals for the mentally ill and toughening background checks. “We’re going to go very strong into age — age of purchase, and we’re also going to go very strong into the mental health aspect of what’s going on,” he said.
Some of the participants at the session made the case for stricter gun control laws.
“How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon?” Stoneman Douglas student Sam Zeif asked of the ability to purchase an AR-15, the assault-style weapon used by the Parkland gunman. “How did we not stop this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook? I’m sitting with a mother who lost her son. It’s still happening,” he said, tearfully gesturing to Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.
“After Sandy Hook, they said we wouldn’t let this happen again, yet it has continued to happen for five years. How many more deaths can we take as a country?” Hockley said.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, which represents 3 million educators, rejected the idea of arming more people on campuses. “Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence. Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms. ... We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.”
“We owe it to the students and school personnel, who’ve lost their lives at schools and on campuses across the country, to work together so that we can thoughtfully and carefully develop common sense solutions that really will save lives.”
The National Education Association represents 3 million educators.
This is one of many recent media appearances by groups of Parkland students affected by last week’s shooting, which claimed the lives of 17 students and faculty members. It marked the 17th school shooting incident so far in 2018.
Many have made strong calls for Congress to act on gun control legislation, and students and adults plan to participate in the March for Our Lives next month, a protest they’re organizing in Washington, D.C., and several sister cities.
Several of the students seated around Trump thanked him for his leadership on mass shooting issues but made few remarks about gun access, marking a sharp tone shift from the Parkland students behind next month’s march.
One of the students, Cameron Kasky, tweeted after the listening session that he, student organizer Emma Gonzalez and the other Parkland students calling for gun control were “not invited” to the White House on Wednesday.