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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Florida shooting: Trump calls armed officer a 'coward' for not engaging gunman

The president said that armed and trained teachers would be more likely to face down an attacker

US President Donald J. Trump addresses the 45th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Jim Lo Scalzo/ EPA
US President Donald J. Trump addresses the 45th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Jim Lo Scalzo/ EPA

President Donald Trump disparaged an armed sheriff’s deputy who was present during a massacre at a Florida high school last week but stayed outside the building, calling him a coward.

The president said later that armed and trained teachers would be more likely to face down an attacker because “they love their students.” Mr Trump has proposed paying bonuses to teachers and other staff with weapons training if they carry concealed guns in the classroom.

The president and Congress have been struggling to respond to public demands to stop mass shootings at schools since a former student armed with an AR-15-style rifle killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14.

The Florida deputy, Scot Peterson, “certainly did a poor job,” Mr Trump said. He “didn’t react properly under pressure or they were a coward,” the president said to reporters as he left the White House Friday morning. Mr Peterson was assigned to the school as a resource officer and on the campus when shooting began.

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Florida shooting: Armed officer stayed outside while gunman killed 17 people

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“What he did, he’s trained his whole life, there’s an example, but when it came time to get in there and do something, he didn’t have the courage or something happened,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump returned to the theme later in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, arguing that teachers, coaches and other school staff would be more likely to risk their lives to fight an attacker than Mr Peterson or other guards with less of a personal connection to students.

“I’d rather have someone who loves their students and wants to protect their students,” Mr Trump told the gathering of conservative political activists. “A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened.”

Mr Trump told reporters earlier in the day that “you have to have a certain amount of offensive power” within schools. The National Rifle Association, he said, “wants to do the right thing. I’ve been speaking to them and they do want to do the right thing.” Mr Trump did not indicate whether he’ll be willing push for policy changes that the NRA opposes.

The NRA has so far objected to one of Mr Trump’s proposals, to raise the legal age to buy a semiautomatic firearm to 21. Mr Trump didn’t mention that measure on Friday, instead focusing on school safety and background checks meant to target people with mental illnesses. It also opposes many Democratic proposals to restrict gun ownership, including limits on the size of magazines or a ban on semiautomatic rifles of the sort gunman Cruz used in his attack.

A man cries as US President Donald Trump speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference. Saul Loeb/ AFP Photo
A man cries as US President Donald Trump speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference. Saul Loeb/ AFP Photo

The NRA is one of the biggest spenders in elections, ranking ninth among all outside groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2016, the organisation’s political arms spent $54.4 million (Dh200m) influencing elections, Federal Election Commission records show, including $19.8 million attacking Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and $11.4 million promoting Mr Trump.

Dana Loesch, an NRA spokeswoman, said Thursday at CPAC that the media relishes shootings. "Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it," she said, speaking hours after taking a less combative tone at a CNN town hall with Stoneman Douglas students, teachers and parents. "Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy. But I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many in the legacy media."

Mr Peterson, the school resource officer at the campus, never went inside to engage the gunman and is under investigation, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a news conference on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

Sheriff Israel said Mr Peterson should have “went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer,” according to the AP. Instead, the officer took up a position in view of the western entrance of the building while the gunman, Nikolas Cruz, conducted his rampage.

The sheriff said he was “devastated, sick to my stomach,” over the deputy’s inaction, the AP reported. “There are no words.” Peterson chose to resign after being suspended without pay, Israel said.