Students — including those who were impacted by the deadly mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla. high school — offered emotional stories of their experiences during a “listening session” with President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
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Their stories of the aftermath of those deaths and of friends and teachers lost was the climax of a day focused on student action on gun policy reform. On Wednesday, students gathered in Washington D.C., held signs and spoke about the need for more gun safety laws as they marched down the National Mall toward the White House.
There was the story of Samuel Zeif, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor, who through tears, told of frantically texting his loved ones and then realizing that his brother was in a classroom on a floor above him.
He later learned that a good friend died in the attack.
“I don’t understand why I can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war,” he said sobbing.
He vowed to speak for the fallen and demanded action.
“Let’s be strong for the fallen who don’t have a voice to speak anyomore,” he said. “And let’s never let this happen again. Please. Please.”
Zeif sat next to Nicole Hockley, the mother of a child killed during a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 and near Darrell Scott, whose daughter was killed in yet another mass shooting years earlier in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado.
For those in the room whose emotion was still fresh and raw, people like Hockley, co-director of the group Sandy Hook Promise, and Scott offered the perspective of distance and policy prescriptions gleaned from years spent advocating on behalf of slain loved ones. Hockley offered a fact check of an oft-cited focus on mental health and gun violence.
Cary Gruber, the father of Parkland student Justin Gruber, pleaded with the president.
“If you’re not old enough to buy a drink, to buy a beer, you should not be able to buy a gun at 18 years old,” Gruber said. “That’s just common sense. We have to do common sense. Please, Mr. Trump, these are things we have to do.”
“We cannot have our children die,” he said. “This is just heart breaking. Please.”
Andrew Pollack, the father of a girl killed in last week’s shooting and who had previously made comments supportive of Trump online, stood up with his sons and delivered an impassioned speech about the need to strengthen school safety.
“All these school shootings, it doesn’t make sense. Fix it!” Pollack said. “… We should have fixed it! And I’m pissed. Because my daughter… She’s not here. She’s not here. She’s in Fort Lauderdale King David cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid now.”
Pollack added, “It is not about gun laws. That is another fight, another battle. Let’s fix the schools and then you guys can battle it out whatever you want. But we need our children safe.”
One by one the tales painted a painful portrait of the youngest victims of mass gun violence in America.
For his part, President Donald Trump offered the gathering an opportunity to grieve, to speak their peace and to be heard by the powerful. He was joined by Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“We are going to do something about this horrible situation that’s going on,” Trump said. “We will figure it out together.”
That something, he vowed, would include strengthening background checks.
The president’s proposed 2019 budget could potentially roll back federal grants aimed at helping states reporting to the national background check system.
Trump also said he would soon be speaking with a gathering of the nation’s governors and would discuss school safety.
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