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Stoneman Douglas students, parents meet with Trump. Trump suggests armed school staff.

Trump holds listening session with Florida high school shooting survivors

President Trump held a listening session with Florida high school shooting survivors and their parents on Feb. 21. Parents of Sandy Hook victims and Columbine also attended.
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President Trump held a listening session with Florida high school shooting survivors and their parents on Feb. 21. Parents of Sandy Hook victims and Columbine also attended.

Several Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and parents met with President Donald Trump Wednesday afternoon, one week after 17 students and staff were killed in a mass shooting at the Parkland school.

“I don’t know how I’m ever going to step foot in that place again,” Douglas student Sam Zeif said. “Or go to a public park after school or walk anywhere. Me and my friends, we get scared when a car drives by. We need to let ideas flow and get the problem solved. I don’t understand. I turned 18 the day after. I woke up to the news that my best friend was gone.

“I don’t understand how I can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war, an AR (shooter Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 rifle),” Zeif said. “I was reading today a person 20 years old walked into a store and bought an AR-15 in five minutes with an expired ID. How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How have we not stopped this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook? I’m sitting next to a mother who lost her son (at Sandy Hook). It’s still happening...”

The televised meeting also included parents whose children died in the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and the 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Noting that Columbine preceded his birth by four years, 15-year-old Douglas High student Justin Gruber said, “I was born into a world where I never got to experience safety.”

Justin expressed sympathy for his father, Carey, who said Justin texted him “I love you” from a Douglas High closet as accused shooter Nikolas Cruz went on his rampage.

“And then his phone died and I didn’t know what happened for another hour or so,” Carey Gruber said. “Seventeen lives are gone. I was lucky. I was lucky enough to get my son home. It’s not left or right. It’s not political. People are dying. And we have to stop this. If [Cruz was] not old enough to buy a drink, to buy a beer, he should not be able to buy a gun at 18 years old. That’s just common sense. We have to do common sense. Please, Mr. Trump. These are things we have to do.”

Sam Zeif also made reference to Columbine, but compared the U.S. reaction to that of Australia after a school shooting there in 1999.

“They took a lot of ideas, they put legislation together. Can anyone here guess how many shootings there have been in the schools since then in Australia? Zero,” Zeif said. “We need to do something. That’s why we’re here. So let’s be strong for the fallen who don’t have a voice to speak anymore. And let’s never let this happen again. Please. Please.”

Douglas student Ariana Klein complimented President Trump on the job he’s done in the year in office, then said, “Everybody right now is so stuck on what they believe that they’re not listening to what other people believe. We need to listen to the other points of views. The solution is not going to be a singular thing. It’s going to be mutli-faceted and be created by different people working together.”

Douglas student Carson Abt, sitting directly left of the president, complimented the Douglas High staff on acting quickly after knowing there was an active shooter on campus. But Carson thought there should be a focus on making sure other staffs were ready to act similarly.

“Through research I found that only 32 states required drills,” Carson said. “But of those 32 states, more than half of the counties don’t go through drills because they want to spend their resources toward something else. We’ve had monthly fire drills, but hadn’t had the lockdown drill this year.”

Trump also spoke of schools’ preparation for a shooter, but stressed having more armed staff on campuses, as much as 20 percent of a school’s staff. Stoneman Douglas, like many schools, already has armed security guards.

“This coach was very brave,” Trump said of Aaron Feis, the Douglas assisstant football and security guard whose funeral is Thursday. “Saved a lot of lives, I suspect. But if he had a firearm, he wouldn’t have had to run. He would’ve shot and that would’ve been the end of it,” the president said.

“This would only be, obviously, for people who are very adept at handling a gun. It’s called ‘concealed carry,’” Trump said. “A teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They would go through special training. They would be there and you would no longer have a gun-free zone. A gun-free zone, to a maniac — because they’re all cowards. A gun-free zone is ‘Let’s go in. Let’s attack because we know bullets won’t be coming back at us.’

“An attack has lasted on average about three minutes” he continued. “It takes five to eight minutes for responders to come in. The attack is over. If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, it could very well end the attack quickly.”

After saying the size of Stoneman Douglas’ campus made mass numbers of security guards impractical, Trump said a smaller group of armed staff would “be ready. They’d be professionals. They may be Marines who left the Marines, left the Army, left the Air Force and they’re very adept at doing this. They’d be spread throughout the school.

“If these cowards knew the schools were well guarded by professionals with great training, I think they wouldn’t go into the school to start with. That could very well solve your problem.”

The woman sitting next to Sam Zeif, Sandy Hook parent Nicole Hockley, lost one of her two children in that tragedy and said to Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, “This is not difficult. These deaths are preventable. Think of your own children. You don’t want to be me. No parent does.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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