- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2018

President Trump mapped out his strategy Thursday for preventing school shootings, a plan that includes raising the age limit for purchasing semiautomatic rifles, arming more teachers and strengthening background checks to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

But part of that plan — arming more school personnel — may have been undercut later in the day by a Florida sheriff’s announcement that an armed guard at the scene of last week’s high school massacre never went inside when the shooting started. The deputy, who stayed outside the building for four minutes while students were being slaughtered, has resigned.

Moving swiftly in the week since a 19-year-old man with an AR-15 killed 17 people and wounded 15 others at the high school in Parkland, Florida, Mr. Trump also said he expects cooperation from the National Rifle Association and Congress. He has been on the phone with lawmakers and NRA lobbyist Chris Cox in recent days.

“There’s a tremendous feeling that we want to get something done,” the president said during a White House meeting on school safety. “There’s a great feeling, including at the NRA, including with Republican senators.”

The president said he favors raising the age limit for purchasing semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21, and he asserted that the NRA “will back it” despite statements from the nation’s largest gun lobby that it opposes such a move.

“I really think the NRA wants to do what’s right,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ve spoken to them often in the last two days. I don’t think I’ll be going up against them. They’re going to do the right thing, I have no doubt in my mind.”

NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre addressed the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday but didn’t mention raising the age limit on rifle purchases. He echoed Mr. Trump’s calls for more armed teachers in schools and improving the system of background checks to bar criminals and the mentally ill from owning guns.

“That’s what common-sense gun laws look like,” Mr. LaPierre said.

The White House said Mr. Trump, who as a candidate was opposed to a ban on assault rifles, hasn’t changed his position.

“What we are looking for are solutions that don’t ban a class of firearms for all individuals but ban all weapons for certain individuals who are identified as threats to public safety,” said White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah.

Increasingly in recent days, Mr. Trump has insisted that part of the solution to school shootings must be to meet fire with fire. On Thursday, the president expressed more determination than ever to allow more qualified teachers or other school personnel who are “adept” with guns to carry concealed firearms on school property.

“We need offensive as well as defensive,” the president told a gathering of state and federal officials. “If we don’t have offensive measures within these schools, you’re just kidding yourselves, folks. I hear so many of these wonderful plans where you’re going to live in this utopian school and there’s not going to be any protection, there’s not going to be any guns, there’s not going to be any bullets flying at the perpetrator — the animal that wants to destroy the lives of families and children. Unless you’re going to have offensive capability, you’re wasting your time.”

There was an armed guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, but a review of video surveillance footage showed that he waited outside the building for about four minutes without ever going in. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel announced Thursday that Deputy Scot Peterson resigned after being suspended without pay.

The sheriff says Mr. Peterson responded to the building where the shooting took place, took up a position outside a door and never went in.

When asked what Mr. Peterson should have done, the sheriff said the deputy should have “went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer.”

Mr. Trump said school shootings will continue unless more adults in schools are armed.

“I want to end the problem,” Mr. Trump said. “Unless we’re going to have an offensive capability, it’s going to happen again and again and again. It’s going to be the same old story, and people are going to be sitting around tables and talking.”

With armed adults in schools, he said, “All of a sudden, this horrible plague will stop.”

The president also proposed bonuses for school personnel who carry guns.

“These people are cowards,” he said of school shooters. “They’re not going to walk into a school if 20 percent of the teachers have guns — it may be 10 percent or may be 40 percent. And what I’d recommend doing is the people that do carry, we give them a bonus. They’ll frankly feel more comfortable having the gun anyway. But you give them a little bit of a bonus.”

Mr. Shah told reporters later that the proposal hasn’t been formalized.

The nation’s largest teachers’ unions have slammed the proposal to arm teachers as impractical and dangerous. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she spoke with 60,000 educators Wednesday night in a conference call about arming teachers.

“The response was universal, even from educators who are gun owners: Teachers don’t want to be armed, we want to teach,” she said. “No amount of training can prepare an armed teacher to go up against an AR-15.”

She said the president “wants to spend money on bonuses for armed teachers yet has cut summer school and after-school programs.”

“Would kindergarten teachers be carrying guns in holsters?” Ms. Weingarten said. “Is every classroom now going to have a gun closet? Adding more guns to schools may create an illusion of safety, but in reality it would make our classrooms less safe.”

Sam Zeif, a student who survived the Florida shooting and met with Mr. Trump at the White House on Wednesday, called the proposal to arm more school personnel absurd.

Both Mr. LaPierre and Mr. Trump spoke of the need to “harden” schools by adding the deterrent of armed adults whose presence would discourage gunmen such as Nikolas Cruz, the suspect in the Florida shooting, from attacking schools in the first place.

Also among the president’s proposals is tightening background checks “with an emphasis on mental health,” and banning bump stocks, an accessory used in last fall’s Las Vegas massacre that speed up the rate of fire for semi-automatic rifles.

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, Texas Republican, and Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, would improve reporting under the existing federal background check system known as NICS and reporting of domestic violence records.

The House has already passed it, but added a concealed-carry provision that Senate Democrats oppose.

Mr. Trump said he has spoken to many lawmakers in the past week.

“They’re into doing background checks that they wouldn’t be thinking about maybe two weeks ago,” the president said. “We’re going to do strong background checks. We’re going to work on getting the age [for rifle purchases] up to 21 instead of 18. We’re getting rid of the bump stocks. And we’re going to be focusing very strongly on mental health, because here’s a case of mental health.”

The mental-health proposal is likely to focus on screening people with behavioral problems from purchasing firearms. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi also outlined an initiative Thursday called a “gun violence restraining order,” in which law enforcement officials could take away guns from someone who is civilly committed to a mental hospital.

The timing of these proposals isn’t clear. Mr. Shah said the White House is “in a listening phase” and will come forward later with “something more concrete.”

“Eventually there will be a legislative process,” he said.

When Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart mentioned active-shooter drills at schools during the White House meeting, the president interrupted her, saying he doesn’t like the term because it could frighten children unnecessarily.

“Active shooter drills is a very negative thing, I’ll be honest with you,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t like it. I wouldn’t want to tell my son that you’re going to participate in an active shooter drill. And I know some of them actually call it that. I think it’s crazy. I think it’s very bad for children.”

Ms. Stewart replied, “I think calling it something else is something important.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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