WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump yesterday pushed his call to arm teachers following last week's school massacre in Florida, saying that it would be limited to those with military or special training, but "would solve the problem instantly".
His idea has already drawn a strongly divided reaction in a country where there are fierce divisions on how to curb mass shootings and everyday gun violence.
"Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. Great deterrent!" he wrote in a series of posts on Twitter early yesterday.
Mr Trump earlier voiced support for the idea of arming teachers during an emotional White House meeting on Wednesday with students who survived the shooting and a parent whose child did not.
"If you had a teacher... who was adept at firearms, it could very well end the attack very quickly," the President said at the meeting.
He sat in the middle of a semi-circle in the State Dining Room of the White House, listening intently as students wept and pleaded for change. He vowed to take steps to improve background checks for gun buyers.
The meeting included six students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and educators were killed on Feb 14 by a gunman with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle in the second-deadliest shooting at a US public school.
"I don't understand why I can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war, an AR," said Sam Zeif, 18, sobbing after he described texting his family members during the Florida shooting. "Let's never let this happen again please, please," he added.
Mr Trump said his administration would emphasise background checks and mental health in an effort to make schools safer.
"We are going to be very strong on background checks, we are doing very strong background checks, very strong emphasis on the mental health," he said.
His support for any tightening of gun laws would mark a change for the Republican, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun rights group during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The head of the NRA lashed out yesterday at critics of the powerful gun lobby, accusing them of exploiting last week's school shooting for political advantage. "The shameful politicisation of tragedy, it is a classic strategy right out of the playbook of a poisonous movement," NRA chief Wayne LaPierre told an annual conservative conference in his first public comments since the Parkland tragedy.
"For them, it is not a safety issue, it is a political issue," he said, accusing outspoken gun control advocates within the Democratic Party of seeking to undermine the constitutional right to bear arms. "They hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom," he said.
At a town hall programme televised on CNN on Wednesday night, Mr Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the shooting, angrily lectured Republican Senator Marco Rubio for his refusal to back gun control legislation.
He demanded that Mr Rubio explain his opposition to a ban on the kind of assault weapon that was used by the Florida gunman to shoot his daughter, Jaime, in the back.
"It is too easy to get. It is a weapon of war. The fact that you can't stand with everybody else in this room and say that, I am sorry," said Mr Guttenberg.
REUTERS, NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE