WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump plans to discuss gun legislation with lawmakers this week, the White House said Monday, and he told governors not to worry about the National Rifle Association as they mull responses to the massacre of 17 people at a Florida high school.
“Don’t worry about the NRA. They’re on our side,” Trump told more than 35 governors, including Rick Scott of Florida, during a White House meeting. “If they’re not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That’s OK. They’re doing what they think is right.”
The Feb. 14 massacre of students and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, by a gunman with a legally purchased semiautomatic rifle reignited the nation’s long-running debate over gun rights.
Trump, a Republican who backed gun rights during and since his 2016 presidential campaign, has been under pressure to show he is responding without alienating Republicans who oppose restrictions on gun rights. He plans to meet with lawmakers from both parties on Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at a news briefing.
Trump, who had lunch with senior NRA officials on Sunday, on Monday repeated his suggestion that arming teachers could help stop more rampages. He did not mention raising the legal age to buy assault rifles to 21, an idea he emphasized last week and one that Florida’s Scott, also a Republican, backed after the rampage.
The NRA could not be reached for immediate comment.
Investigators said this month’s assault was carried out by Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student at the high school, with a legally purchased AR-15 assault weapon.
The shooting has rattled long-drawn political lines on gun rights in the United States, where Republican officials have often backed any efforts to tighten gun ownership rules, partly out of concern about retribution by the powerful NRA.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, told Trump that teachers in his state do not want to carry weapons.
“I have listened to the first-grade teachers who don’t want to be pistol-packing first-grade teachers,” Inslee said. “Let’s just take that off the table and move forward.”
But Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, said more than 100 school districts in his state have trained teachers and other staff to carry a weapon and respond to attacks.
“Some school districts, they promote it,” Abbott said. “They will have signs out front, a warning sign, ‘Be aware there are armed personnel on campus.’”
Florida plans to invest $500 million to have a significant law enforcement presence in every public school in the state, Scott told the White House meeting.
Trump criticized the law enforcement officers who responded to the shooting.
An armed school resource officer stationed at the school stayed outside during the attack, and has since resigned. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has been criticized for his department’s response to the shooting.
“The way they performed was, frankly, disgusting,” Trump said, adding that he believed that if he were in the same situation, he would have run into the school “even if I didn’t have a weapon.”
The businessman-turned-politician avoided military service during the Vietnam War through student and medical deferments.
He has called the school resource officer, Scot Peterson, a “coward.”
An attorney for Peterson defended his actions in a statement, saying he had remained outside because he believed the gunfire was occurring outside the school.
“Allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue,” attorney Joseph DiRuzzo said in a statement.
Trump has said he plans to limit sales of “bump stocks,” which can modify a legally purchased semiautomatic rifle to fire at high rates of speed akin to a machine gun. Fully automatic machine guns are largely banned under U.S. law.
The NRA has pushed back against that idea, saying it would impinge on the rights of law-abiding gun owners while having no effect on public safety.
A gunman in Las Vegas last year used assault rifles equipped with bump stocks to kill 58 people in the deadliest attack by a single shooter in U.S. history. Bump stocks have not played a prominent role in other recent U.S. mass shootings.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis