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Trump Vows to 'Very Strongly' Consider Raising Age to Purchase Rifles

President Trump meets with students, parents and teachers impacted by mass shootings at the White House on Feb. 21, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/Sipa via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — President Trump held a White House listening session today with a handful of Parkland, Fla., students and relatives of those slain last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, saying he would weigh an age requirement suggestion that quickly drew pushback from the National Rifle Association.

“We’re going to work very hard, and it’s very difficult. It’s very complex, but we’re going to find a solution. We have been looking at this issue for a long time — too long, as far as I’m concerned,” Trump said.

“If you have any suggestions, if you have any feelings as to what we should do, because there are many different ideas, some, I guess, are good; some aren’t good. Some are very stringent, as you understand, and a lot of people think they work, and some are less so,” he said. “But in addition to everything else, and in addition to what we’re going to do about background checks, we’re going to go very strongly to age, age of purchase, and we’re also going to go very strongly into the mental health aspect of what’s going on, because here was a case where it cried out, this person, who was sick, very sick, and people knew he was very sick. And I know law enforcement’s also, I think, really learned a lot from this event.”

Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have teamed up on a bill to raise the age for rifle sales to 21, same as handguns.

After Trump’s comment on considering changes to the purchase age, the NRA issued a statement protesting that the proposal “effectively prohibits” 18- to 20-year-olds from “purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their constitutional right to self-protection.”

“The NRA supports efforts to prevent those who are a danger to themselves or others from getting access to firearms,” the group said. “At the same time, we will continue to oppose gun control measures that only serve to punish law-abiding citizens.”

At a CNN town hall later, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he would support legislation raising the age to buy a rifle to 21.

Attendees at the White House session also included students and teachers from violent areas of D.C., the father of a Columbine victim, and the mother of a Sandy Hook victim.

Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky asked, “What is the positive impact of having legislation that stops assault rifles, bans assault rifles? It could save a life, and that needs to be a priority in any case.”

“And when we talk about rights, so we have the right for free speech,” she added. “But if free speech in any way endangers someone, it gets restricted.”

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in last week’s mass shooting, said he was “very angry” because “it keeps happening — 9/11 happened once, and they fixed everything. How many schools, how many children have to get shot?”

“It should have been one school shooting, and we should have fixed it. And I’m pissed, because my daughter, I’m not going to see again. She’s not here. She’s not here. She’s at — in North Lauderdale, at whatever it is — King David Cemetery. That’s where I go to see my kid now,” Pollack said.

“And it stops — we all work together and come up with the right idea, and it’s school safety. It’s not about gun laws right now. That’s another fight, another battle. Let’s fix the schools, and then you guys can battle it out, whatever you want. But we need our children safe.”

Sam Zeif, a Stoneman Douglas student who hid on the second floor of the building while texting his younger brother on the third floor whose teacher had been killed by gunman Nikolas Cruz, choked up as he talked about losing his best friend in the massacre.

“I don’t know how I’m ever going to step foot on that place again, or go to a public park after school, or be walking anywhere. Me and my friends, we get scared when a car drives by, anywhere,” Zeif said. “…I turned 18 the day after, woke up to the news that my best friend was gone, and I don’t understand why I could still go in a store and buy a weapon of war, an AR.”

“In Australia there was a shooting at a school in 1999. And you know, after that, they took a lot of ideas, they put legislation together, and they stopped it,” he added. “Can anyone here guess how many shootings there have been in the schools since then in Australia? Zero.”

Trump mused about more mental health institutionalization and arming school employees as potential solutions.

“If they caught this person — I’m being nice when I use the word ‘person’ — they probably wouldn’t have known what to do. They’re not going to put him in jail. And yet — so there’s no — that middle ground of having that institution, where you had trained people that could handle it and do something about it and find out how sick he really is. Because he is a sick guy, and he should have been nabbed a number of times, frankly,” Trump said.

On the topic of campus concealed carry, the president said school staff could “go for special training, and they would be there, and you would no longer have a gun-free zone.”

“‘Gun-free zone,’ to a maniac — because they’re all cowards — a gun-free zone is ‘let’s go in and let’s attack, because bullets aren’t coming back at us,'” Trump said. “And if you — if you do this — and a lot of people are talking about it — it’s certainly a point that we’ll discuss — but concealed carry for teachers and for people of talent — of that type of talent — so let’s say you had 20 percent of your teaching force — because that’s pretty much the number — and you said it — an attack has lasted, on average, about three minutes. It takes five to eight minutes for responders — for the police to come in. So the attack is over. If you had a teacher with — who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly.”

“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,” he added.

Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook, replied that “rather than arm them with a firearm I would rather arm them with the knowledge of how to prevent these acts from happening in the first place.”

“There’s so much we can do to help people before it reaches that point. And I urge you, please, stay focused on that as well,” she said. “It’s the gun, it’s the person behind the gun, and it’s about helping people before they ever reach that point.”