WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump called for speedy and substantial changes to the nation's gun laws during a White House meeting on Wednesday.
The discussion was billed as a session focused on "school and community safety," and two of those attending, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., have proposed new federal grant funding to stem school violence. The bill -- Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018 -- would offer money for law enforcement and school staff training, campus infrastructure upgrades and mental health resources.
In the freewheeling, televised session that stretched for an hour, Rutherford had an exchange with the president about potential problems posed by gun-free zones.
Rutherford: "I want to give you a perspective from 41 years in law enforcement, 12 as a sheriff, riding the streets of Jacksonville, Florida. I can tell you one of the things I learned during that 41 years and a lot in this room can tell you as well, is security is always a multi-layered approach. So as we talk about background checks, who can buy a gun, who cannot, all of those things are important. And all of those are parts of the security we can create for our country. But know this, and you said it, all of that can break down and someone can go into a gun-free zone and just kill at will ... Defenseless people. So number one, for security, from a law enforcement perspective, and it sounds cliché, but it’s cliché because it’s true -- the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. And so you have to have those officers or some armed security at our schools. Now the issue is, can we talk about, those are areas where there are no guns. The reason I carry a concealed firearm everywhere I go is because I don’t know where those gun-free zones are, that I may be walking through at the mall. Or at the donut shop. Or wherever I might be. So that’s why I carry concealed. So that I can protect myself, I can protect my family who might be with me. And I can protect all of those around me who choose not to carry a firearm."
Trump: "You’re not allowed concealed in a gun-free zone, so what do you do?"
Rutherford: "You can’t carry in those areas, and so…"
Trump: "They are the most dangerous places, gun-free zones."
Rutherford: "And that’s why we need to look at, I think, going back to the concealed carry issue, national reciprocity."
Trump: "You’re not going to get it approved. You’re not going to get concealed carry approved. Amy and Diane and a lot of other people, people may consider it, but they’re not going to consider it in this bill… all it’s gonna mean..."
Rutherford: "But … we don’t want to do away with gun-free zones."
Trump: "As far as I’m concerned, I would, and I would do it with the military. In fact, I’m looking to get rid of gun-free zones in the military. We have military bases with gun-free zones and we had five incredible soldiers, three of whom were championship shooters, that were nowhere near their gun and this whack job walked in and killed all of them, and they were defenseless. And if they had their guns, he would have been gone in a second."
Rutherford: "Every time I walked into some place carrying concealed, I end a gun-free zone -- whether it’s a restaurant, whether it’s a … grocery store. "
The White House meeting came amid fresh public debate over gun laws, fueled by student survivors of the massacre at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have been meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The school reopened Wednesday for the first time since a Valentine's Day assault killed 17.
The White House is expected to reveal more on the president's plans for school safety later this week. That announcement will likely include goals for background checks and bump stocks, though whether age restrictions will be specifically addressed remains unclear, according to an administration official who sought anonymity to discuss private conversations.
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