Students who survived last week’s school shooting in Florida took their calls for action to the White House on Wednesday, as President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE grapples with how to prevent future gun massacres.
One of the solutions the students from Parkland, Fla., pushed for during an emotional meeting with the president is raising the minimum age to purchase firearms — an idea that is picking up some bipartisan support in the Senate.
The young students have quickly emerged as powerful voices in the heated gun control debate, with lawmakers saying the students have kept an extra layer of pressure on them to tackle the thorny political issue head-on.
But the grassroots student movement, dubbed “Never Again” on social media, has already suffered its first setback in the Florida state legislature and faces attacks from right-wing conspiracy theorists.
Still, the widespread national attention and White House visit underscore the growing role that the student activists are playing in the national conversation surrounding gun violence. But it’s unclear whether the movement will actually make progress in the Republican-controlled Congress.
“I was born into a world where I never got to experience safety and peace,” Justin Gruber, a student who survived the school shooting, said at the White House. “There needs to be significant change in this country, because this has to never happen again.”
Trump hosted a “listening session” on Wednesday with students and teachers who survived the shooting rampage at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, which left 17 people dead.
Also in attendance were representatives from advocacy groups formed after the school shootings at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as Vice President Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVosBetsy DeVosMnuchin, Pompeo mulled plan to remove Trump after Jan. 6: book Republicans look to education as winning issue after Virginia successes McAuliffe rolls out new ad hitting back at Youngkin on education MORE.
Survivors, parents and victims’ family members took turns sharing their stories and offering potential solutions as a somber Trump nodded along in the State Dining Room.
“I’m pissed,” one emotional father whose daughter was killed in the Parkland shooting told Trump.
Another parent who lost a child implored officials to consider their own children when considering options to curb gun violence.
Some called on the president to impose age limits on firearm purchases and increase funding for mental health and school training, while others thanked Trump for his recent steps to ban the so-called bump stock devices that were used in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.
“Some of your suggestions, I’ve heard some of them. We’re going to do something about this horrible situation that’s going on,” Trump said. “I want to listen. And then after I listen, we’re going to get things done.”
One parent brought up the controversial idea of arming teachers and administrators with concealed guns, which Trump said is “certainly a point we will discus.” The president also asked for a show of hands in the room to see who supports and opposes such a proposal.
“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, that could very well end the attack very quickly,” Trump said. “We’re going to be looking at that very strongly. And I think a lot of people are going to be opposed to it. I think a lot of people are going to like it.”
The meeting was dramatic, but it was less combative than the interviews and speeches that some of the shooting survivors have been giving on television and at rallies over the past week.
Following last week’s horrific massacre, the Florida students have taken the gun control fight into their own hands and forced lawmakers to reckon with gun violence.
The students have met with elected officials to demand tougher gun access laws, appearing on national television with their passionate calls for action and organizing a series of marches, walkouts and rallies.
The grass-roots movement has inspired students to take similar action around the country. Hundreds of students in Maryland walked out of class and marched on Congress and the White House to demand action on gun control on Wednesday.
The emotional pleas from students appear to be having a moving impact on Trump, who has voiced support for some narrow gun control measures on Capitol Hill in recent days. The president will also huddle this week with state and local officials to discuss school safety and mental health issues.
“We’re going to be very strong on background checks,” Trump said Wednesday. “There are many ideas I have, there are many ideas that other people have, and we’re going to pick out the strongest ideas, the most important ideas.”
“It’s not going to be talk like it has been in the past,” he added.
Trump spoke Friday with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, about supporting a bipartisan bill in the Senate to improve the federal background check system for gun purchases.
Trump also announced Tuesday that he has directed the Justice Department to propose a ban on bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire much more rapidly, reinvigorating a ban push that has been stalled for months since a mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert.
GOP leaders and Trump had embraced such a ban after the device was used in the Las Vegas shooting last October, but the effort faded amid disagreements over whether Congress or the administration was better suited to make the change.
In another sign that the political winds could be shifting in favor of gun law reform, a new Quinnipiac poll shows 66 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws — the highest level of support ever measured by the poll. And 97 percent of the population supports universal background checks.
Lawmakers and aides alike pointed to the grass-roots student movement as one reason for the growing sense of momentum.
But the students have already learned a tough, early lesson in the gun control fight. Florida state lawmakers on Tuesday refused to consider a bill to ban assault weapons, despite student marches in Tallahassee supporting the legislation.
The movement could also face similar political realities in Congress, where calls for federal gun reform have long gone unanswered, even after mass shootings like the ones at a Texas church, an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and a congressional Republican baseball practice.
The students have also become the subjects of right-wing conspiracy theories aimed at discrediting them. Fringe blogs have made unfounded claims that the kids are paid “crisis actors” planted by the left to push for stricter gun laws following tragedy.
The far-right conspiracy theories have been repeated by some more high-profile conservatives, including former Rep. Jack KingstonJohon (Jack) Heddens KingstonThe Hill's Top Lobbyists 2020 Lobbying world Disagreements are a part of our process MORE (R-Ga.), in an effort to dismiss the calls for action.
“The well ORGANIZED effort by Florida school students demanding gun control has GEORGE SOROS’ FINGERPRINTS all over it,” tweeted former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr., a prominent pro-Trump media figure, in a reference to liberal billionaire George Soros.
The backlash to the conspiracy theories about the students has been swift.
An aide to a Florida state Republican was fired after suggesting that two students whose impassioned response to the shooting went viral are actually “actors that travel to various crisis when they happen."
The grieving students have vigorously rejected the notion that they are being coached to fight for gun reform after the tragedy that took the lives of their classmates and teachers.
“I figured why not stand in front of these cameras and show them exactly how I feel, show them that I am not a crisis actor, that I am not going off of these pre-written speeches given to me by another person,” Delaney Tarr, one of the student survivors, said during a press conference on Wednesday. “Because speaking from the heart is what we do best.”