A seething father who lost his 18-year-old daughter in the Florida school shooting stood inside the White House Wednesday and directly confronted the president of the United States: “How many schools, how many children have to get shot?” Andrew Pollack asked. “It stops here with this administration and me.”
The riveting scene was one of many that were captured live on national television as family members of those killed in recent school shootings pressured President Trump to take some sort of action after the latest tragedy: 17 people killed last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
They were gathered for what the White House billed as a “listening session,” and listen Trump did, sometimes stoically in the face of emotional pleas for action.
“I’m only 15 years old. I’m a sophomore. Nineteen years ago the first school shooting at Columbine happened, and I was born into a world where I never got to experience safety and peace,” Justin Gruber, a student from Stoneman Douglas High School, said. “There needs to be significant change in this country, because this needs to never happen again, and people need to feel that when you go to school they can be safe.”
Students and parents from the Parkland high school addressed Trump during the hourlong meeting, sometimes tearfully, sometimes angrily, over the need for action to stop another massacre.
“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 Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was killed in the Florida massacre.
Some survivors of the shooting also described their experience in the Feb. 14 attack.
“As a kid, nothing that horrible should ever happen to you,” Jonathan Blank, who was in one of the classrooms targeted by the shooter, said. “You can’t even think about it. It doesn’t even seem real, still.”
Facing increased pressure to take some sort of action after the Feb. 14 shooting, Trump at one point flatly asked the gathering for solutions.
“It’s not going to be talk like it has been in the past,” Trump said at the beginning of the meeting. “It’s been going on for too long.”
The meeting also included students, teachers, and parents from DC area schools, as well as parents whose children were among the 26 staff members and students killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Gun control, assault weapon bans, increased security at schools, and tougher background checks were just some of the topics that were brought up during the White House meeting, which was also attended by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Many of those in attendance brought up tougher gun control legislation, including age requirements on certain weapons and the sale of AR-15s, the weapon used by the Florida shooter.
“I don’t understand why I can still go into a store and buy a weapon of war,” Samuel Zief, a Parkland student whose friend was killed in the shooting, told the president.
Trump appeared to be leaning toward tougher background checks in the areas of mental health and age, as well the possibility of arming teachers or other staff members at schools.
“How did we not stop this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook?” he said.
“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly,” Trump added. “I think a lot of people are going to be opposed to it. I think a lot of people are going to like it.”
Although the idea of arming school staff has gained support from Trump and his Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, the plan could face stiff pushback.
Just hours after Trump seemed to air support for it, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, pushed back on the plan.
“We don’t need to put guns in the hands of teachers,” he said during a televised townhall on CNN to a standing ovation. “We need to arm our teachers with more money in their pocket.”
Nicole Hockley, who cofounded Sandy Hook Promise after her 6-year-old was killed in the Connecticut attack and attended the meeting with President Trump, said she was opposed to arming teachers in classrooms and said resources should instead be focused on training students and teachers to look for the warning signs that someone might commit such an act.
“There are solutions, and this administration has the ability to put them in place,” she said. “After Sandy Hook, they said it wouldn’t happen again, and yet it continued for five years.”
Trump, who had touted the quick endorsement of the National Rifle Association as a presidential candidate, has asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to come up with regulations to ban bump stocks, which were used during the Las Vegas mass shooting to make the shooter’s rifles fire like automatic weapons.
“This is a long-term situation that we have to solve,” Trump said. “And we’ll solve it together.”
There were 26 staff members and students killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. An earlier version of this post misstated this number.
The quote from Jonathan Blank was misattributed in an earlier version of this post.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.