President Trump argued before a group of political supporters Friday that arming some teachers will make the nation’s schools “a much harder target” for would-be attackers, offering a staunch defense of an idea opposed by law enforcement and education groups.
“When we declare our schools to be gun-free zones, it just puts our students in far more danger,” Trump told the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Minutes after slamming the Florida sheriff’s deputy who failed to stop last week’s mass shooting at Parkland, Fla., as either a “coward” or someone who froze under extreme pressure, Trump insisted that teachers who actually know the students would do a better job defending them.
“A teacher would’ve shot the hell out of him,” Trump said of the shooter Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people and wounded 15 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school.
Since holding an emotional listening session at the White House on Wednesday with students and parents affected by gun violence, Trump has called for “well-trained” and “gun-adept” teachers and coaches to be able to carry concealed firearms at schools.
The gun issue dominated a rambling, wide-ranging speech in which Trump also announced new sanctions on nuclear-armed North Korea, praised the late Rev. Billy Graham, extolled the tax cuts that passed last year, urged Republicans to vote in this year’s congressional elections, and again called for construction of an anti-migration wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Don’t worry, you’re getting the wall,” he told the Trump-friendly crowd at the annual CPAC meeting near Washington. Delegates whooped and chanted, “Build that wall! Build that wall!”
Law enforcement and teachers groups have criticized Trump’s plan to arm teachers, saying it would be ineffective and could lead to accidental shootings.
“We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. “Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump is following the National Rifle Association playbook in advocating armed teachers.
“Not surprised the NRA reeled President Trump back in,” Schumer said. “Just amazed at how fast it happened.”
During his calls to arm teachers, Trump also praised students who survived last week’s shooting in Parkland, saying “our whole nation was moved by their strength.”
In recent days, Trump has endorsed modest gun control measures, including expanded background checks and increasing the age of purchase of semi-automatic weapons to 21 – but he did not expand on these ideas at CPAC, where delegates oppose gun control measures as infringements on Second Amendment gun rights.
In urging delegates to support Republican candidates in the November congressional elections, Trump claimed to the pro-gun crowd that Democrats would end Second Amendment rights if they win control of Congress.
At one point, Trump said he wanted to go “off script” because his prepared speech was “boring.” His riffs, ranging from attacks on the Barack Obama administration to his criticism of the Iranian nuclear agreement, echoed those of his 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump’s overall presentation drew catcalls from his critics.
“This speech at CPAC is demagogic, vapid, intellectually dishonest and just plain old fashioned idiotic,” tweeted Republican consultant Steve Schmidt. “If someone delivered this speech from the end of a bar most people would think that person was an imbecile.”