Trump promises shooting survivors a 'solution' but gun control remains elephant in the room

Trump promises shooting survivors a 'solution' but gun control remains elephant in the room

A week ago, Julia Cordova was one of about 3,000 teenagers at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, when a gunman took an Uber to the school and opened fire with a weapon designed for use by the US army.

Today she was sitting next to the President of the United States at the White House, in an antique chair in front of a fireplace in a room usually reserved for world leaders, telling her story and asking for a solution to a half century epidemic of mass shootings in America.

Julia wasn't even born when 12 students and a teacher were gunned down by fellow students at the Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, yet survivors of that rampage were also at the White House today.

Also gathered were some families of the 20 first graders who were gunned down alongside six of their teachers and school staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 by another young man armed with the same AR-15 semi-automatic firearm.

The event was billed as a "listening session" with President Donald Trump beginning with a pledge to be "very strong on background checks", to put an emphasis on "the mental health of somebody" and vowing that "it's not going to be talk like it has been in the past".

"We're going to get it done," he said.''

'Fix it!'

Everyone agreed they need to stop this happening again, schools must be made safe from gun violence.

Personal stories were told by 17-year-olds still trying to make the events of last week seem anything more than a bad movie, and by the children, now grown to adulthood, the parents and grandparents who all had their lives shattered in a few moments years ago that still lives with them every day.

Andrew Pollock, whose daughter Meadow was among the 17 killed in Florida last week, couldn't control his emotions, demanding the President "fix it!"

Fixing guns with more guns

But one thing was abundantly clear, with the best will in the world, and away from the influence of powerful political forces like the National Rifle Association, ordinary Americans respectfully but fundamentally disagree on how to respond to these shootings.

The President was not alone in the group suggesting that one answer might be to arm teachers.

"There are plenty of teachers who are already licenced to carry firearms," one man said.

"And when something like this starts, the first responders are already on campus."

Someone suggested undercover police could pose as janitors or librarians. Two Stoneman Douglas students and the President nodded.

Maybe former cops could work in schools, another man said.

But the father of one of the young victims at Sandy Hook, whose wife is a teacher, made the point that school teachers have more than enough responsibilities than to have the lethal force to take a life.

"A deranged sociopath on his way to commit an act of murder in a school, knowing the outcome is going to be suicide, is not going to care if there's somebody there with a gun," the father said.

Instead, he said, the solution is to train teachers and students to identify individuals at risk of carrying out such a crime.

Prevention, not mitigation, should be the focus, many argued.

The elephant in the room remained gun control, and the fact that weapons of war like the AR-15 are able to be freely purchased in many states by anyone, including someone who is mentally ill.

Yesterday, the President announced plans to ban so-called "bump stocks" — an accessory that turns a legal rifle into a machine gun, used in America's deadliest mass shooting in Las Vegas last year.

Another episode of Trump TV?

As an hour-long event, staged for the cameras, it would be easy to dismiss it as a PR stunt by a President whose response so far to the Florida shooting stands at just 31 per cent — another episode in the reality TV presidency of Donald Trump.

For a President known not to read much, including his daily briefings, but who spends hours watching cable news, perhaps immersing him in a TV event was a very clever way for his staff to have him hear a wider range of views than he'd get on Fox News.

The focus on schools also begs the question, even if you find an answer to this problem, what about protecting concert-goers on the Vegas strip, dancers in an Orlando nightclub, people at the movies in Colorado, at Sunday school in South Carolina or a church in Texas?

President Trump's closing remarks pretty closely mirrored his introduction, while going further in highlighting mental health as a major issue, and suggesting that America was better equipped to deal with the problem than "institutions many years ago".

Yet this was the President who signed a law in February 2017 revoking an Obama-era regulation making it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase guns.

"The world is watching," the President said, "and we're going to come up with a solution."

With that he turned to Miss Cordova and firmly shook her hand, as if sealing a deal.