Trump vows action on gun background checks after Florida shooting

WASHINGTON/TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday vowed to take steps to improve background checks for gun buyers in the wake of last week's deadly Florida high school shooting as hundreds of students joined scattered protests around the United States.

"It's not going to be talk like it has been in the past," Trump said in a meeting about school safety that included six students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and educators were slain by a gunman with an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle in the second-deadliest shooting at a U.S. public school.

Survivors of that shooting poured into the Florida state capital, Tallahassee, to demand that lawmakers restrict sales of assault rifles. Some wore T-shirts and carried signs reading "We call B.S.," one of the slogans of the movement started by the survivors.

Protesters joined the call from the streets of Washington, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

The Feb. 14 massacre, the latest in a long series of deadly U.S. school shootings, stirred the nation's long-running debate about gun rights and public safety, prompting officials from state lawmakers to Trump to consider new action.

Investigators said the assault was carried out by 19-year-old former Stoneman student Nikolas Cruz, who purchased an AR-15 nearly a year ago. Police charged Cruz, who had been kicked out of the school due to disciplinary problems, with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

"Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle before he was able to buy a beer," said Laurenzo Prado, a Stoneman junior, referring to a Florida law that allows people as young as 18 to buy assault weapons. "The laws of the country have failed."

Lawmakers in Tallahassee said they would consider raising the age limit to 21, the same standard for handguns and alcohol, though the state Senate on Wednesday opted not to take up a gun control measure.


Students scattered across the United States walked out of classes in sympathy protests. Hundreds of teens from the Washington suburbs gathered at the White House in the hours before Trump's meeting.

"I came out here because I don't feel safe in my school," said Allyson Zadravec, 15, of Northwood High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. "I want to make sure that everyone who can do something about it hears that I don’t feel safe in my school.”

Similar walkouts were held or planned in Florida, Phoenix, Arizona; Pittsburgh and Chicago, according to witnesses and local news media accounts.

Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sat in a semicircle, listening to stories and pleas from about 40 students, teachers and families.

The group included Nicole Hockley, who lost a child in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut, and family members of Parkland students.

The meeting came a day after Trump said his administration would take steps to ban bump stocks, an accessory that enables a rifle to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute.

Under pressure after Parkland, Trump on Tuesday directed the Justice Department to quickly complete a proposed rule that would treat "bump stocks" as machine guns, which could effectively outlaw them in the United States.

Last October, a retired real estate investor and high-stakes gambler used multiple assault rifles equipped with bump stocks to kill 58 people at a Las Vegas outdoor concert, the deadliest attack by a single gunman in U.S. history. Bump stocks have not played a prominent role in other recent U.S. mass shootings.

Trump's support for any tightening of gun laws would mark a change for the Republican, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association gun lobby during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The NRA opposes an outright ban on bump stocks but has said it would be open to restrictions on the devices.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urged Trump to back legislation, instead of a regulation, on bump stocks.

"The only way to close this loophole permanently is legislation," Schumer said.

(This story was refiled to delete extraneous verb "said" in first paragraph.)

(Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson in Parkland, Florida, Keith Coffman in Denver and Jeff Mason, Rick Cowan, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Jeffrey Benkoe)

02/21/2018 16:50

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