President Donald Trump defended the National Rifle Association on Thursday, saying he believes the organization wants to "do the right thing" in wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.
Trump, during a roundtable discussion on school shootings with state and local officials at the White House, said he had spoken to officials from the NRA, calling them "good people" and "patriots" who are "ready to do things."
"They're ready to do things," Trump said. "They love this country. The NRA is ready to do things. People like to blame them, and they do have power and all of that, but they want to do things. I told them, 'We're going to have to toughen up.' It doesn't make anyone look good. We can't allow that to happen."
A White House official told CNN that Trump spoke with NRA executive director Chris Cox.
Earlier Thursday, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre delivered an unrepentant speech at a conservative gathering near Washington, saying, "What they want is more restrictions on the law-abiding."
"You should be anxious and you should be frightened" about the potential of another Democratic takeover of the House, Senate and White House," he said.
"If they seize power ... our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever," he said. "The first to go will be the Second Amendment," LaPierre said.
Though Trump has suggested raising the minimum age for purchasing a firearm, an idea that has been roundly rejected by the NRA, he said he doesn't expect to clash with the gun rights group.
"I don't think I'll be going up against them," Trump said. "They're going to do what's right. They're very close to me. I'm close to them. The NRA wants to do the right thing. I've spoken to them often in the last two days. It's not a battle -- I think the NRA wants to do the right thing."
Trump also echoed some of LaPierre's language when it came to "hardening" schools and upping their security.
Final tribute: Slain football coach is hailed as a hero
When Joe LaGuardia heard there had been a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he said he knew in the pit of his stomach that his longtime friend Aaron Feis was doing everything possible to save students.
LaGuardia was heading to an Ash Wednesday service when he got news of the shooting.
"There wasn't a question in my mind that after I finished Ash Wednesday service I had to go and check out Aaron's Facebook page or get ahold of the family because I know that Aaron would be running to save lives, I just knew it," LaGuardia said Thursday at Feis' funeral.
Feis, an assistant football coach and security guard at the school of 3,200 students on the edge of the Florida Everglades, was among 17 gunned down by a former student who police said returned to the school with an AR 15 assault-style rifle just before dismissal on Feb. 14. He entered the freshman building and began shooting into classrooms. Minutes later, he dropped the weapon in a stairwell and fled with other students. He was arrested about an hour later in a neighborhood not far from the school.
Football players wearing Stoneman Douglas jerseys carried Feis' casket into the Thursday service at the Church of the Glades in Coral Springs where family and friends gathered to remember him as loyal and caring.
Former student Brandon Corona called Feis, 37, "a counselor to those who had no father figure." He said Feis often worked two or three jobs to make ends meet for his family, and he loved his truck. "His time was infinite when it came to students and athletes," Corona remembered.
"He was one of the greatest people I know," LaGuardia said, recalling the times he spent with Feis and his family as he and Feis attended Stoneman Douglas where Feis later went to work.
"I knew that the inspiration that his family and his wife gave him was the strength that allowed him to make a decision in split second in order to give his life over to his students in order to save them, even if it was only three students or a half dozen students. That was the Aaron I know."
Speaker after speaker hailed Feis as a hero.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, who had known Feis for years, said head football coaches shuttled in an out at the high school, but each one kept Feis as an assistant.
"Everybody wanted him," Israel said. "He was the connection to the kids. Kids would do more for Feis than others. Why? Because they didn't want to let Feis down."
And everyone said Feis always took care of the students. "Before you even heard how he died, you knew he died putting himself in harms' way to save others," Israel said.
Orit Levy, whose three sons graduated from Stoneman Douglas and played football, said Feis was adored. "I can see him taking bullets for these kids."
Florida students not backing off push for gun regulations
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -
The student-driven movement to rewrite gun laws showed no sign of waning a week after a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida school, with politicians yielding to pressure to respond.
President Donald Trump on Thursday endorsed certain gun control moves amid the public outcry, saying "there's nothing more important than protecting our children." And Republican leaders in Florida indicated they'd be open to some changes after students rallied at the state Capitol.
Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said a visit to the school where the shooting occurred has prompted him to change his stance on large capacity magazines.
Rubio, a Republican, insisted that he is willing to rethink his past opposition on gun proposals if there is information the policies would prevent mass shootings.
"If we are going to infringe on the Second Amendment, it has to be a policy that will work," Rubio said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
As the 50th anniversary of her father's assassination approaches, the daughter of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said limiting gun access is long overdue. The Rev. Bernice King said she hopes people can "look toward solutions as these young people are forcing us to have the conversations, bipartisan conversations."
Speaking at The King Center in Atlanta, King said tragedy "gives us an opportunity to lay aside for a moment our differences and really look at how we can come together as humanity and move forward with these injustices and these evils that continue to beset us."
The survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School have vowed to continue their activism, including a "March for Our Lives" in Washington next month, which King says she'll attend.
At a funeral for slain football coach Aaron Feis, retired school groundskeeper Dave Tagliavia said he thinks the students mean what they say and won't back down.
"I think if changes are going to be made, these kids are going to do it. They've got fire in their eyes," he said.
A day after an emotional meeting with survivors and their families, Trump tweeted his strongest stance yet on gun control. He said he would endorse strengthening background checks, banning "bump stock" style devices and raising the minimum age to 21 for buying certain rifles.
At a conference of conservative activists Thursday near Washington, Vice President Mike Pence said the administration would make school safety "our top national priority" after the shooting at the school in Parkland, Florida.
Calling school shootings "evil in our time," Pence exhorted those in positions of authority "to find a way to come together with American solutions."
It was a markedly different tone than that deployed on stage minutes earlier by NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, who delivered an unbowed defense of gun ownership and lashed out at Democrats - saying they are using the tragedy for "political gain."
In Parkland, hundreds gathered to remember Feis, 37, an assistant football coach and security guard gunned down while helping students to safety during the mass shooting
Joe LaGuardia, who attended high school with Feis at Stoneman Douglas, described him as "one of the greatest people I have ever known."
Students converged on Florida's Capitol to take their concerns about gun control to state lawmakers Wednesday. Outside the building, many protesters complained that lawmakers were not serious about reform, and they said that in future elections they would oppose any legislator who accepts campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.
The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, has been jailed on 17 counts of murder and has admitted the attack. Defense attorneys, state records and people who knew him indicate that he displayed behavioral troubles for years, including getting kicked out of the Parkland school. He owned a collection of weapons.
On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson gave Sen. Marco Rubio credit for being the only Republican to attend a televised town hall Wednesday night held in the aftermath of the school shooting and criticized Republican Gov. Rick Scott for not showing up.
"I commended (Rubio) for being there. He had the guts to be there when Governor Scott did not," Nelson told a group of Democratic state senators.
Scott is likely to challenge Nelson as he seeks a fourth term in the Senate this November. Nelson questioned Scott's commitment to make meaningful change after the shooting.
Republican legislative leaders in Florida say they will consider legislation that will likely call for raising the age limit to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 and increasing funding for mental health programs and school resource officers, the police assigned to specific schools.
Lawmakers are also considering a program promoted by one Florida sheriff that calls for deputizing someone, possibly trained teachers, to carry a weapon on campus. Legislators may also enact a waiting period for rifle purchases.
Florida Senate President Senate President Joe Negron said his chamber is working with the House as both chambers prepare legislation as a response to the Parkland shootings. He said a final draft should be available "early next week at the latest."
What won't be considered is a ban on assault-style rifles.
"Let's follow the Constitution. We have a commitment to follow the Constitution in difficult times as well as in times when those rights are not in question," Negron said
Shooting survivors endure new assault _ from online trolls
One student was teased about being a "brown, bald lesbian." Another was the target of conspiracy theorists who claimed he was really an actor. When a group of teens posed for a photo, they were accused of lapping up attention from the news cameras and "partying like rock stars."
Just days after watching their classmates die, survivors of the Florida school shooting came under a different kind of assault, this time from online trolls who threatened the students as they seek tighter gun laws.
In the face of such attacks, the students have been undeterred, confronting the trolls head-on in television interviews and on social media.
"They see us as a threat. And honestly, that's kind of entertaining to me. And I love it because it means what we are doing is working. We are changing the world," student David Hogg told MSNBC on Wednesday at a rally outside the Florida Capitol.
Some conservatives have suggested that the teens are being used as political pawns, but the most vicious of the trolls go well beyond that, into personal attacks and baseless accusations.
Hogg was the subject of perhaps the most outlandish conspiracy to surface since the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High that killed 17 people. He was accused of being an actor who was never at the school.
The theory gained momentum in part because Hogg was interviewed by a news reporter last year while on vacation in California. During the trip, he was a witness to a friend's confrontation with a lifeguard. President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., liked a tweet linking to a story suggesting Hogg was not a survivor of the attack.
But Hogg is no actor. He recorded a harrowing video of terrified students huddled in a darkened room on the day of the shooting. His classmates responded to the trolls with biting sarcasm.
Hogg "is smart, funny, and diligent, but my favorite thing about him is undoubtedly that he's actually a 26-year-old felon from California," tweeted classmate Cameron Kasky. Another troll had cast Hogg as a 26-year-old man who was arrested for drugs in South Carolina.
Others latched on to Hogg's comment that his dad previously worked for the FBI as a means to discredit him. The FBI has acknowledged that agents received a tip about suspect Nikolas Cruz but failed to investigate it.
The students who endured trolling also include Emma Gonzalez, whose short haircut and skin color drew derision, and Kasky, who complained on Twitter about receiving graphic death threats on Facebook.
Critics also assailed the students for the photos that were taken with a CBS reporter. Trolls compared the images to promotional portraits and said the smiling teens were "laughing uproariously."
Hoax claims and online vitriol have long plagued the survivors of mass shootings and families of the dead. But many of the Stoneman Douglas students faced a new layer of scrutiny after they pivoted from survivors to gun-control activists.
University of Maryland professor Danielle Citron, who studies online harassment, said such internet mobs are meant "to silence and to intimidate" and to "shut down a social movement in its tracks." But Citron said the younger generation, who are steeped in social media, can be resilient.
These young people have grown up with social media and are familiar with its vitriol, as well as its power.
"My Twitter following has tripled over the past day," Hogg told MSNBC. "I think that's in part because of these trolls. So for that, I'm honestly kind of thankful."
University of Illinois at Chicago communications professor Steve Jones said conventional advice is not to engage with trolls. But he said he would not presume to tell the students what to do, especially after what they witnessed.
"They've been through one of the most horrible things imaginable and whatever they're doing in response to it is itself an act of bravery," said Jones, who studies online behavior.
Piero Guerra, a 16-year-old junior, who considered himself a gun-rights supporter before the shooting, said he can understand why some people are angry with the students' efforts.
"But my main goal is that they see our perspective as well," Guerra said. "It's kind of hard to tell people to be respectful on the internet because it's never going to happen."
YouTube removed a trending conspiracy video titled "David Hogg Can't Remember His Lines," which showed Hogg stopping to collect his thoughts and repeating answers to questions about the shooting, but many similar videos are still available.
YouTube said in a statement that hoax videos targeting families involved in major tragedies violate its harassment policy and will be removed.
Hogg's mom, Rebecca Boldrick, said the online harassment has scared her son, but also made him more determined. Her 14-year-old daughter also survived the shooting.
"I've always said to (my children), 'You have to be the change you want to see in the world,'" she said.
Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son died in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, has sought to debunk conspiracy theories claiming mass shootings were staged by the government as part of an anti-gun agenda. He is still harassed online, more than five years later.
Pozner said he's now advocating for laws that would treat victims of mass-casualty events as a protected class "so that this kind of targeting would be considered hate speech and a crime."
"But I'm glad people are not still deluding themselves with saying, 'Just ignore the trolls and they'll go away.' Because they have not gone away," Pozner said. "The trolls just get bigger and faster."
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