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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

US gun control debate intensifies as emotions run high

Trump took to Twitter on Thursday to defend his controversial plan to protect children by allowing teachers to carry weapons

President Donald Trump listens as Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill speaks during a meeting with state and local officials to discuss school safety in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump listens as Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill speaks during a meeting with state and local officials to discuss school safety in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The grief-stricken debate over US gun laws intensified on Thursday, as President Donald Trump reiterated his proposal to arm teachers after spending an emotional hour with survivors of last week’s Florida school shooting.

The “listening” session at the White House a day earlier was peppered by heartfelt pleas for action from both survivors and relatives of those killed in armed attacks.

On Thursday morning, Mr Trump took to Twitter to defend his controversial plan to protect children by allowing teachers to carry weapons.

“History shows that a school shooting lasts, on average, 3 minutes. It takes police & first responders approximately 5 to 8 minutes to get to site of crime. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT,” he wrote.

The idea is the most controversial to be floated by politicians as the United States deals with the fallout of yet another mass shooting.

A poll released earlier this week by ABC News/Washington post said 42 per cent of Americans believe teachers with guns could have prevented the Florida shooting.

Mr Trump also signalled concessions to the anti-gun lobby on Thursday, however, tweeting that he would push for tougher background checks — with an emphasis on mental health — and endorsing the idea of raising the minimum age for gun ownership to 21.

The issue has taken on added urgency since 17 pupils and teachers were shot dead at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday last week.

Some parents who attended the White House meeting on Wednesday spoke in favour of arming teachers, and praised Mr Trump as a decisive leader.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow Pollack died at Parkland, said: "9/11 happened once and they fixed everything. How many schools have to get shot up before it's fixed? The cemetery, that's where I go to see my kid now."

He added that he supported the idea of arming teachers, saying: "It stops here with this administration and me."

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But student activists who have come to the fore during the past week are instead pushing for measures that would limit sales of weapons, putting them on a collision course with the gun lobby.

Some are demanding a ban on assault weapons, while others want sales prohibited for those under 21, universal background checks and improved mental health care to prevent the likes of Nikolas Cruz — charged with 17 murders after the Florida attack — being able to own the AR-15 rifle that has featured in so many mass killings.

Student campaigners clashed bitterly with Marco Rubio, the Republican senator for Florida, at a televised town hall meeting on Wednesday evening, jeering and booing as he pushed back against banning assault weapons.

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed in last week's shooting, told Mr Rubio that his comments about the attack “and those of your president this week have been pathetically weak”.

He won a rousing standing ovation as he challenged the senator to admit that guns were the problem.

Mr Rubio responded by saying the problems laid bare by the shooting rampage "cannot be solved by gun laws alone".

His position sparked angry accusations that he was more interested in defending the stance of powerful lobby group the National Rifle Association (NRA) than taking action to protect children in schools.

“It's hard to look at you and not look down the barrel of an AR-15 and not look at Nikolas Cruz,” said Cameron Kasky, one of the survivors who has become one of their cause’s most powerful and visible campaigners.

“Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?”

Mr Rubio declined to answer the question directly and instead suggested that he did not change his positions to please donors.

"People buy into my agenda, and I do support the Second Amendment,” he said.

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