President Donald Trump pledged Wednesday to cover "every aspect" of school safety — showing support for arming "adept" teachers or former military officers to prevent or shorten school shootings.
Speaking at the White House to students, parents and family members affected by last week's Florida high school massacre and other mass shootings in the past, Trump also pledged to be "very strong on background checks" and put a "very strong emphasis" on mental health. Some of the students and parents who lived through the Florida shooting or lost a child when a gunman opened fire, killing 17 people, fought back tears or raised their voices as they urged the president to find a solution.
The event came as some Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students protested both in Florida and Washington, pushing for tougher gun laws. Thousands of students rallied Wednesday for tighter gun laws at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee.
Students from the high school, their families and parents of those slain urged Trump to find some solution. While some of those gathered differed on whether changing gun laws is the best solution, they pleaded for action as the president looked on and listened, at times nodding or crossing his arms.
"It should have been one school shooting, and we should have fixed it," said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, died in the shooting, raising his voice. "I'm pissed! My daughter — I'm not going to see again! She's not here."
Samuel Zeif, a student at the Florida high school whose friend died in the shooting, cried as he said, "I'm here to use my voice because I know he can't."
"How have we not stopped this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook? I'm sitting here with a mother who lost her son. How is this still happening?" Zeif asked.
Pollack told Trump that he thought school safety measures were the most important part of preventing future shootings. Zeif, 18, meanwhile, questioned why he could be permitted to buy an AR-15 style rifle, which he called a "weapon of war."
Trump asked the individuals gathered to propose solutions, taking a show of hands to gauge who supported or opposed various plans. They floated possible fixes like putting volunteers with guns in schools, requiring a minimum age to buy guns, outlawing assault-style weapons or improving mental health care and background checks.
Two parents whose children were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 in Connecticut endorsed training teachers to recognize students who are struggling mentally and showing them how to intervene before they use a gun to kill others or themselves. They are advocates for Sandy Hook Promise, an organization that aims to help teachers recognize warning signs.
Trump repeatedly pledged to work to prevent future school shootings.
"It's not gonna be talk like it has been in the past. It's been going on too long. Too many instances. And we're going to get it done," he said.
The president personally put his weight behind multiple changes to gun laws and school protocols.
"If you had a teacher with — who was adept at firearms — they could very well end the attack very quickly. ... And we're going to be looking at it 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," Trump said.
Pollack supported that notion. Mark Barden, whose son was killed at Sandy Hook, criticized it, saying teachers already have too much too worry about.
Trump said he wanted to be "strong" on background checks and mental health to stop other shootings.
Trump is open to banning all guns for some individuals, like those with mental illnesses, a White House official told CNBC. The administration would prefer that rather than an assault-style weapons ban called for by many Democrats.
This week, the president has signaled his support for at least two narrow provisions to tighten gun laws. On Tuesday, Trump signed a memorandum recommending that Attorney General Jeff Sessions propose rules banning so-called bump stocks, which can effectively turn semi-automatic weapons into machine guns. The gunman who massacred 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas last year used such a device.
Trump also backed a bipartisan Senate bill to improve the existing background check system. It aims to make federal agencies better at following rules that require them to submit criminal convictions to the FBI, which could help stop high-risk individuals from getting guns.
"Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!" Trump tweeted Tuesday.
Lawmakers who back the bill say following existing procedures better may have stopped the shooter who killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last year from getting a gun.