President Donald Trump has surprised lawmakers by embracing gun control measures that are tougher than usually supported by his party, as students returned to the site of America’s latest horrific school shooting.
“We have to do something about it. We have to act,” Trump said, voicing support for expanded background checks, more secure schools, curbs on the ability of the mentally ill to buy firearms and raising to 21 the age for buying certain guns.
“We can’t wait and play games and nothing gets done,” Trump said at a meeting with lawmakers from both parties.
At one point, he turned to a Republican senator and said: “You’re afraid of the NRA,” referring to the National Rifle Association, the premier and powerful US gun lobby.
“He surprised me,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy later told AFP. “He committed very forcefully and very clearly to comprehensive background checks, raising the age on purchase of assault weapons, and protective orders.”
With tears, fears and defiance, students also made an emotional return Wednesday to their Florida high school where a former classmate went on a shooting rampage two weeks ago, killing 17 people.
Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland were greeted by heavy security and scores of well-wishers as they returned to classes.
Dozens of police officers lined the sidewalks saying “Good morning” to each child and retired officers passed out flowers. Former students, neighbors and their children held banners reading “We Love You,” “You’ve Got This” and “We Are With You.”
“It’s all a little overwhelming,” said one 17-year-old student named William, who shared a classroom with two of the young victims, Nicholas Dworet and Meadow Pollack.
“It was just sad to go back there and not have my friends who were in the class with me anymore.”
Likewise, for Kimberly Miller, the first day back meant confronting the absence of her geography teacher, 35-year-old Scott Beigel.
Beigel was one of three staff killed, along with 14 teenagers, when former student Nikolas Cruz entered the school on Valentine’s Day and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle.
“It’s pretty upsetting,” said the 14-year-old Miller. “But it was also refreshing to talk to everyone because people don’t really understand how it feels, no matter how much they try to understand.”