President Donald Trump on Thursday doubled down on arming school teachers while defending the National Rifle Association — even as he broke ranks with the powerful gun rights organization on a key gun ownership proposal.
Trump defended the NRA and its CEO, Wayne LaPierre, who have come under intense pressure from Parkland students and others who blame them for blocking gun laws that could help prevent future school and other mass shootings.
Speaking to a more friendly group of local and state prosecutors and lawmakers at the White House, the president struck a more forceful tone Thursday, echoing many of most critical lines given LaPierre at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The event was the second of his listening tour in the wake of last week’s Florida high school shooting that killed 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“We have to harden our schools, not soften them,” Trump said, repeating a phrase used by LaPierre earlier in the day about “hardening schools.” “A gun-free zone to a killer or somebody who wants to be a killer, that’s like going in for the ice cream. That's like, ‘Here I am, take me.’”
Still, Trump reiterated support for tougher background checks, ending the sale of bump stocks and raising the minimum age of buyers for semi-automatic rifles to 21 — a measure the NRA explicitly rejected earlier this week.
The president dismissed questions that his support for raising the age requirement for buying weapons puts him at odds with the NRA.
“I really think the NRA wants to do what’s right,” he said. “I mean, they’re very close to me, I’m very close to them, they’re very, very great people. They love this country. They’re patriots.”
But across town, the NRA was giving next to no ground. The group’s leadership joined lock-step on school security improvements, but drew a red line on new restrictions on gun ownership.
LaPierre took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference and defiantly defended the Second Amendment against what he called “new European socialists” looking to seize control of Congress and the White House.
“Our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever,” he said. “And the first to go will be the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
But Trump said he’s been in frequent contact with the NRA, including with LaPierre who he called a great patriot. He said Pierre and the NRA are ready to work on changes, such as raising the age requirements on buying rifles.
The group that met with Trump at the White House included Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky, who Trump thanked for her work helping the students.
They're not going to walk into a school if 20 percent of the teachers have guns. It may be 10 percent, it may be 40 percent.
President Donald Trump
Trump called accused Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz a coward and said he, as wells as those who attacked Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and Columbine High School in 1999, would not have entered the school if he knew staff had offensive capabilities.
“They’re not going to walk into a school if 20 percent of the teachers have guns. It may be 10 percent, it may be 40 percent,” Trump said.
Bondi highlighted the work the state is doing rewriting the it’s Baker Act, which gives powers to the police to temporarily seize firearms from people with mental illness. She also wants to reintroduce a Gun Violence Restraining Order, a law currently in place in California and Connecticut, which allows police and family members to obtain orders barring people suspected of being a threat from possessing guns.
“We’re going to make changes,” Bondi said.
But Trump cut off Education Commissioner Stewart when she mentioned there is no requirement for active shooter drills.
“But active shooter drills is a very negative thing, I’ll be honest with you,” Trump said. “I think that's a very negative thing to be talking about. I don't like it. I don’t want to tell my son, ‘You’re going to have to participate in an active shooter drill.’ I’d much rather have a hardened school ... I think it’s crazy. I think it’s very bad for children.”
Deputy press secretary Raj Shah later sough to explain Trump’s remarks saying he wasn’t against the actual drills, but they should be called something different or risk of “frightening children.”