U.S. President Donald Trump endorsed the idea of arming educators in the classroom during an emotional exchange Wednesday with students and parents victimized by school shootings.
Also, spreading former military service members throughout schools "could very well solve your problem," Trump said in the White House State Dining Room. "We're going to be looking at it very closely."
At one point, Trump asked: "Does everybody like that idea?"
A few people raised their hands. The president then asked who opposed it and more hands went up from the approximately 40 people in the room, mainly students, family members and educators directly affected by school shootings.
Trump also called for an end to gun-free zones near schools, declared his administration was "going to be very strong on background checks" and that it would also examine raising the minimum age for purchase of guns (28 states have no such restrictions).
"If he's not old enough to go buy a beer, he should not be able to buy a gun. It's just common sense," said student Samuel Zeif, who survived last week's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a 19-year-old former student has been charged in the killing of 17 people.
"It should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it, and I'm pissed. Because my daughter, I'm not going to see again," said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was shot nine times and died. "King David Cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid now."
Pollack questioned, "How many children have to get shot?"
The school's student body president, Julia Cordover, told Trump she was "lucky enough to come home from school" and "I am confident you will do the right thing."
Some students from the school declined invitations to attend Wednesday's White House event and instead rallied at Florida's state Capitol in Tallahassee to call for gun-control reforms.
Mental health issue
The president also referred to shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz as a "sick guy … who should have been nabbed." Cruz is being held without bond on 17 counts of premeditated murder at the Broward County Jail.
Trump put more emphasis on the mental health issue than gun control in his remarks, saying "there's no mental institution, there's no place to bring them" in many communities.
"It's about the guns and the person behind the gun," responded Nicole Hockley, who lost her 6-year-old son, Dylan, in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
At the beginning of the session, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, reading prepared remarks, said that no student or teacher should ever have to endure what those in the room had.
"My heart is broken. We're here to have an earnest conversation. We're here to listen to gain your important perspective on ways to reduce violence and protect students," DeVos said.
The president on Tuesday ordered the Justice Department to look at outlawing bump stocks — attachments that allow semiautomatic guns to be fired faster — that were used in the shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, last October that killed 58 people and wounded 851 others.
The Trump administration and lawmakers are facing a backlash from critics — including from some of the student survivors of the latest school mass shooting — who say they are too focused on the mental health of gunmen rather than the weapons they carry.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week said 86 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats said stricter gun control laws could have prevented the Florida shooting, while 67 percent who identified as Republicans said stricter laws could not have prevented the massacre.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence on Wednesday called for Congress to immediately pass legislation to make it significantly harder for deadly weapons to be used by dangerous people.
"Americans of every age and background are calling 'BS' on the lack of action from Congress and the president. Americans aren't more dangerous or more criminally inclined than people in other nations, but we have the highest rate of gun deaths in the developed world. That's because our laws continue to allow easy access to the deadliest weapons, and it is well past the time to change those laws," said Brady Campaign Co-president Avery Gardiner.
The organization and others blame the powerful National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups for their campaign contributions to lawmakers for a lack of action.
"With all 435 seats in the House and 34 seats in the Senate up for re-election in November, it is time for them to act. If not, we'll vote them out," said Gardiner.
The Brady organization is named after former White House press secretary James Brady, who was shot along with President Ronald Reagan outside a Washington, D.C., hotel in 1981.