US President Donald Trump has suggested arming teachers as a way to counter mass shootings in schools.
The president said arming teachers and other school staff could help prevent future mass shootings and voiced support for an idea backed by the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby.
The Republican president, who has championed gun rights and was endorsed by the NRA during the 2016 campaign, said he would move quickly to tighten background checks for gun buyers and would consider raising the age for buying certain types of guns.
Students galvanized by the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school confronted lawmakers on Wednesday with demands to restrict sales of assault rifles.
The unprecedented lobbying effort by groups of teenagers and parents at the White House and at the Florida statehouse in Tallahassee played out as fellow students staged classroom walkouts and rallies in cities across the country.
Trump held an emotional, hour-long meeting with students who survived the Florida shooting and a parent whose child did not.
Trump spoke at length during the televised White House “listening session”, attended by students, parents and people affected by other US school shootings, about how armed teachers and security guards could frighten off potential shooters and prevent more deaths.
While acknowledging the proposal was controversial, he said:
“If you had a teacher … who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly,”
Some of the meeting participants indicated support. Others were opposed.
The attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and educators were killed on Feb 14 in the second-deadliest shooting at a US public school, has revived the long-running US debate over gun rights.
Investigators said the assault was carried out by 19-year-old former ex-student Nikolas Cruz, who bought an AR-15-style assault weapon nearly a year ago.
“Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle before he was able to buy a beer,” said Stoneman Douglas student Laurenzo Prado, referring to a Florida law that allows people as young as 18 to buy assault weapons.
“The laws of the country have failed,” he told reporters at the Florida state capital.
Mark Barden, whose son was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, said his wife, Jackie, a teacher “will tell you that school teachers have more than enough responsibilities right now than to have to have the awesome responsibility of lethal force to take a life.”
Lawmakers in Tallahassee said they would consider raising the age limit to 21, the same standard for handguns and alcohol, although the state Senate opted on Wednesday not to take up a gun control measure.
The US Constitution protects the right of Americans to bear arms, a measure fiercely defended by Republicans. However, Trump has come under pressure to act.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed at Stoneman Douglas, told Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida at a town hall program televised on CNN on Wednesday night his comments and those of the president’s in the past week had been “pathetically weak.”
Rubio, under fire for saying the problems could not be solved by gun laws alone, said he would support a law that would prevent 18-year-olds from buying a rifle as well as a ban on “bump stocks,” an accessory that enables a rifle to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute.
Ashley Kurth, a Republican teacher who protected more than 60 people in her classroom, questioned Rubio about Trump’s proposal to arm teachers.
“Am I supposed to get extra training now to serve and protect? … Am I supposed to get a Kevlar vest? Am I supposed to strap it (the gun) to my leg or put it in my desk?”
Rubio responded that the idea of arming teacher was wrong.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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