WASHINGTON/TALLAHASSEE (Reuters) – Students galvanised by the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school confronted lawmakers on Wednesday with demands to restrict sales of assault rifles, while President Donald Trump suggested arming teachers as a way to stop more US rampages.
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.
Mr Trump held an emotional, hour-long meeting with students who survived the Florida shooting and a parent whose child did not. He said arming teachers and other school staff could help prevent future mass shootings, voicing 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.
The attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida where 17 students and educators were killed on February 14 in the second-deadliest shooting at a US public school, has revived the US debate over gun rights.
Investigators said the assault was carried out by 19-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, who purchased 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.”
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.
Mr 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.
“If you had a teacher … who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly,” he said. He listened intently to ideas from about 40 people, including those from six students who survived the Florida shooting.
“I don’t understand why I could still go in a store and buy a weapon of war,” said Sam Zeif, 18. “Let’s never let this happen again, please.”
Mr Trump sat in the middle of a semi-circle in the White House State Dining Room. Photographers captured images of his handwritten note card with questions and responses such as: “What would you most want me to know about your experience?” and “I hear you.”
Mr Trump also said he was open to looking at age limits, among other measures, and lamented the closure of many mental institutions that helped assess violent people.
Ashley Kurth, a Republican teacher who protected more than 60 people in her classroom, questioned Republican Senator Marco Rubio at a town hall event televised on CNN about Mr 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?”