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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Trump suggests he would have taken action during Florida school shooting

US president again found fault with officers who didn't stop gunman 

Donald Trump arrives for the 2018 White House business session with state governors in the dining Room of the White House. AFP/MANDEL NGAN
Donald Trump arrives for the 2018 White House business session with state governors in the dining Room of the White House. AFP/MANDEL NGAN

US President Donald Trump told the nation's school governors on Monday he would have rushed in unarmed to aid students and teachers during a deadly mass shooting in Florida.

"You don’t know until you’re tested but I think I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too," Mr Trump said at a White House meeting.

Seventeen students and teachers were killed in the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, sparking a public outcry for new gun-control measures as well as action to improve school safety.

Mr Trump again found fault with the officers who didn’t stop the gunman who carried out the massacre. "They really weren’t exactly Medal of Honour winners," he said.

Under pressure to act to stem gun violence on school grounds, the president sought advice from the governors.

"Our nation is heartbroken. We continue to mourn the loss of so many precious and innocent young lives," Mr Trump said during a meeting with 39 governors who are in Washington for their annual winter meeting.

"But we’ll turn our grief into action. We have to have action." Mr Trump said his calls for the arming of teachers wasn't a universal one, instead likening it to taking advantage of educators with athletic talents to provide additional protection within schools.

"The headline was Trump wants all teachers to have guns. Trump wants teachers to have guns. I don’t want teachers to have guns," the president said. "I want highly-trained people that have a natural talent, like hitting a baseball or hitting a golf ball or putting."

The president pointed to improved background checks for gun purchases, the arming of teachers, re-opening mental institutions and banning bump stock devices like the one used during the shooting at a Las Vegas music festival.

He has also suggested raising the minimum age for the purchase of assault-style weapons along with paying teachers bonuses for carrying concealed weapons as a way of warding off potential shooters.

Washington governor Jay Inslee, one of two Democrats to address Mr Trump publicly, expressed his concerns over arming teachers as a way to respond to the school shootings. "We need a little less tweeting, a little more listening," Mr Inslee said.

But Mr Trump defended the proposal, saying he believes "retribution" is the only way to prevent more school shootings.

During the 75-minute event, Mr Trump called on Florida governor Rick Scott to outline the steps he is taking to respond to the shooting in South Florida. Mr Scott said he plans to increase funding to protect schools and to tighten gun restrictions on those with mental health issues.

The president renewed his criticism of former Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson as the officer's lawyer said in Florida the accusations are untrue that he acted unprofessionally and cowardly during the shooting. Lawyer Joseph DiRuzzo said Monday that the school resource officer didn't enter the high school because it sounded like the shooting was happening outside the building.

The president told the governors, "Look at Peterson. Look what he did in Broward where he thought he was probably a brave guy, but he wasn't a brave guy under pressure. He choked and other people choked."

Mr Trump said he had lunch during the weekend with key leaders of the National Rifle Association, including Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox, and said the officials "want to do something" to address the issue.

The president said there is "no bigger fan of the Second Amendment than me", but there's a need to boost background checks and ensure that a "sicko" is unable to get a gun.

"Don’t worry about the NRA," Mr Trump said. "They're on our side."

The president's session with the governors was the latest in which he solicited ideas for stopping gun violence at schools as the White House works to finalise an expected legislative proposal. Mr Trump spent several days last week hearing emotional pleas from parents and students, including some who survived the Parkland shooting, and others who suffered through school shootings in Connecticut and Colorado. He also solicited input from state and local officials.

His daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, expressed uncertainty when asked whether arming teachers would make children safer.

"To be honest, I don’t know," the mother of three said in an interview with NBC News from South Korea, where she attended the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. "Obviously, there would have to be an incredibly high standard for who would be able to bear arms in our school. But I think there is no one solution for creating safety."

The NRA, which backed Mr Trump for president, opposes increasing the minimum age for assault-style weapons purchases but favours arming teachers.