President Donald Trump told the nation's governors on Monday that the country will "turn our grief into action" following the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school, conferring with state leaders ahead of a push in Congress to respond to the latest carnage.
"We have to have action," Trump declared.
Addressing the governors in the State Dining Room, Trump again found fault with the officers who didn't stop the Florida gunman who carried out the massacre, saying they "weren't exactly Medal of Honor winners." The president suggested that if he or the governors had been in that position, they would have acted.
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"You don't know until you test it but I really believe I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too," Trump said.
Under pressure to act to stem gun violence on school grounds, Trump solicited input from the state chief executives during meetings Monday at the White House. The governors are in Washington for their annual winter meeting.
"Our nation is heartbroken. We continue to mourn the loss of so many precious and innocent young lives," Trump said during a meeting with 39 governors. "But we'll turn our grief into action. We have to have action."
Seventeen students and teachers were killed in a Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, sparking a public outcry for new gun-control measures as well as action to improve school safety.
The president pointed to a number of ideas that he has floated since the shooting, including improving background checks for gun purchases, arming educators and re-opening mental institutions. He has also suggested raising the minimum age for the purchase of assault-style weapons along with paying teachers bonuses for carrying concealed weapons as a way of warding off potential shooters.
Trump also vowed to reclassify bump stocks as something akin to a machine gun, making the devices more difficult to acquire, whether Congress takes action or not.
Trump said he had lunch during the weekend with key leaders of the National Rifle Association, including Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox, and said the NRA officials "want to do something" to address the issue.
Trump said there is "no bigger fan of the Second Amendment than me," but there's a need to boost background checks and ensure that a "sicko" is unable to get a gun. He also suggested that half of the governors in the room are afraid of the group, but that they shouldn't be.
"Don't worry about the NRA," Trump said. "They're on our side."
Trump's session with the governors was the latest in which he solicits ideas for stopping gun violence at schools as the White House works to finalize an expected legislative proposal. Trump spent several days last week hearing emotional pleas from parents and students, including some who survived the Parkland shooting, and others who suffered through school shootings in Connecticut and Colorado. He also solicited input from state and local officials.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, pushed back on Monday against Trump's proposal to arm gun-adept teachers and suggested he listen more.
"I've listened to the first-grade teachers that don't want to be pistol-packing first-grade teachers, I've listened to law enforcement who have said they don't want to have to train teachers," Inslee said. "We need to listen, that educators should educate and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat."
He added, "I just suggest we need a little less tweeting here and a little more listening."
Trump's daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, has expressed uncertainty when asked whether arming teachers would make children safer.
"To be honest, I don't know," the mother of three said in an interview with NBC News from South Korea, where she attended the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. "Obviously, there would have to be an incredibly high standard for who would be able to bear arms in our school. But I think there is no one solution for creating safety."
The NRA, which backed Trump for president, opposes increasing the minimum age for assault-style weapons purchases but favors arming teachers.
"I think we're going to have a great bill put forward very soon having to do with background checks, having to do with getting rid of certain things and keeping other things, and perhaps we'll do something on age, because it doesn't seem to make sense that you have to wait until you are 21 years old to get a pistol, but to get a gun like this maniac used in the school, you get that at 18," Trump said during a late Saturday telephone interview with Fox News Channel. "That doesn't make sense."