President Donald Trump on Wednesday will meet with students, parents and teachers impacted by mass shootings in Parkland, Fla., Newtown, Conn., and Columbine, Colo., as he begins to searching for policies to keep America’s schools safe.
Trump will hold a “listening session” that may address mental health, gun laws and other security measures schools face as the administration begins to tackle school safety, what the president is now describing as a “top priority.”
Connor Dietrich, 17, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a gunman killed 17 people last week, said Trump needs to be focused on gun regulations, including expanded background checks, and more help for the mentally ill.
“None of us are OK,” Dietrich said. “This was a tragic event we were all forced to live through. But we are here turning our grief into fuel to make change happen and we need the president as focused on change as we are.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back on suggestions that the administration is starting from scratch on the issues but cautioned that change may not likely happen quickly.
“Unfortunately when horrific tragedies like this happen, everybody wants a quick and a simple answer,” Sanders said. “But there isn’t one ... But we want to make sure that we’re addressing the problem, and we want to make sure that we’re meeting and talking with as many people, that not only are affected, but that play a role in this process, as possible.”
In fact, the wait has been a long one. It’s been nearly two decades since students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Adam Lanza killed 20 children between the ages of six and seven, and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Dec. 14, 2012. Both shootings prompted a heated debate over the nation’s gun laws but little action was taken in their aftermath.
Trump will host a second meeting with local and state officials, including law enforcement officers, Thursday at the White House. He will meet with the nation’s governors next week.
Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott called for the resignation of FBI Director Christopher Wray after the agency failed to act on a Jan. 5 tip that Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz may have been planning a school shooting. Sanders said that the FBI was investigating the agency’s conduct and she couldn’t comment further.
Trump announced Tuesday that he signed a memorandum ordering Attorney General Jeff Sessions to craft regulations to ban “bump stocks” and other devices that turn semi-automatic firearms into automatic weapons.
“We can do more to protect our children,” he said. “We must do more to protect our children.”
Republicans and Democrats had called for bump stocks to be regulated after it was used by a shooter to kill 58 people at a music festival in Las Vegas in October. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives began reviewing the issue late last year.
No immediate action was taken. Some administration officials said they could not the sale of bump stocks without congressional action.
Trump told Sessions, who accompanied the president to an event honoring law enforcement officers Tuesday, that he wants those new federal guidelines finalized “very soon.”
“The department understands this is a priority for the president and has acted quickly to move through the rulemaking process,” DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said. “We look forward to the results of that process as soon as it is duly completed.”
Trump, who visited Parkland on Friday, was immediately criticized for failing to address guns in his speech to the nation last week. Gun control groups, Democratic lawmakers and even Parkland students called on Trump and Republican leaders in the House and Senate to pass laws that would keep dangerous guns out of the hands of would-be criminals.
“The president and Congress must listen to the students, educators, mothers and fathers across America who are demanding meaningful action to reduce gun violence,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Congress needs to get serious and meet this moment with significant action, starting with legislation to require criminal background checks on every gun sale — supported by 95 percent of Americans.”
Kate Irby and David Smiley of the Miami Herald contributed.
Correction: An earlier version of this story spelled Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s name incorrectly.