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Parents And Students Express Frustration During School Safety Meeting With Trump


It was one week ago today that 17 people were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Today, students from that school were among those invited to the White House to meet with President Trump and discuss school safety. The father of a student killed in Parkland also was there. Andrew Pollack spoke of his anger at losing his 18-year-old daughter, Meadow.


ANDREW POLLACK: It stops here with this administration and me. I'm not going to sleep until it's fixed. And Mr. President, we're going to fix it 'cause I'm going to fix it.

KELLY: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson was there, and she joins us now from the White House. Hey, Mara.


KELLY: It sounds like just such a raw, emotional scene there today. Can you describe it for us?

LIASSON: Lots of venting, lots of anger, lots of grief and frustration - the kinds of things you've been hearing all week. And there were students from Parkland and parents, but there were also parents from Columbine and Sandy Hook. And there was tremendous frustration that this keeps on happening. And here's Sam Zeif. This is a student who survived the Parkland massacre.


SAM ZEIF: I was reading today that a person - 20 years old - walked into a store and bought an AR-15 in five minutes with an expired ID. How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How do we not stop this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook? I'm sitting with a mother that lost her son. It's still happening.

LIASSON: And he pointed out that he can - has to be 21 to buy a beer. He has to be 21 to buy a handgun. But at age 18, he can go and buy a weapon of war.

KELLY: Yeah. I interviewed him myself today before and after he walked into that White House meeting. And I said, it sounds like you've grown up a lot. And he said, oh, yeah, I just turned 18, and I felt 35. Let me ask you this, Mara, because this meeting today - it was supposed to be focused on school safety. How much of the conversation was just focused on guns - gun rules, what needs to change?

LIASSON: Well, there was a wide range of topics discussed. There was a consensus on background checks, more security in school, more efforts to flag mental health issues. But the group was pretty evenly split on whether teachers should have guns in school. One brother of a Parkland victim lost his sister, Meadow. You heard his dad earlier. He said there should be more firearms on campus. Of course there was a split on whether there should be a ban on assault weapons.

KELLY: This issue of arming teachers is something that President Trump picked up on and was talking about at the White House today. How did that go down?

LIASSON: Yeah. He talked a lot about the benefits of arming teachers and other school employees. Here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. And 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.

LIASSON: So this is the kind of thing you hear Trump - and the NRA talks about this, too. The answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. This is a long-standing position of the president during the campaign. He actually attacked Hillary Clinton for suggesting that Trump wanted guns in classrooms.

But his argument is if the shooter knew there were trained professionals with guns, they wouldn't come into the school. But then the Sandy Hook father stood up and said, deranged shooters generally are planning to commit suicide either by their own hand or by the police, and an armed campus would not deter them. The president did ask for a show of hands about whether people like this idea. The group is pretty evenly split on the idea of arming teachers. But the president also made some other news. Here he is.


TRUMP: In addition to everything else, in addition to what we're going to do about background checks, we're going to go very strong into age - age of purchase.

LIASSON: Age of purchase - you'll have to be older to buy an assault weapon. You know, the background check tweaks that the president is for are supported by the NRA, but the NRA is not in favor of raising the age at which people can buy assault weapons, and it'll be really interesting to see if the president drops this idea after he gets pushback from a really important part of his base.

KELLY: Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you.

KELLY: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson bringing us up to speed on events today at the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.