In the days after the Parkland school mass shooting, President Donald Trump zeroed in on mental health as a primary culprit, but on Wednesday parents whose children were slain in the massacre called on him to acknowledge the role that guns played in the tragedy and to take action.
Quoting the words of two families who lost children in the February 14 shooting, Parkland Mayor Mayor Christine Hunschofsky told Trump at a listening session at the White House that it was time for solutions.
One father said that he supports the Second Amendment, but doesn’t believe there’s a need for assault rifles, said Hunschofsky. Another father, Fred Guttenberg, said he would like the administration to publicly acknowledge the role guns played in the shooting.
“Now these two parents talked about guns. And there are absolutely lots of areas where there’s room for improvement, lots of areas — from mental health, from teacher training,” said Hunschofsky during the listening session. “But part of that is also the gun issue. So it’s not that it’s just those and not the gun [issue], it’s all of them.”
The alleged gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, is accused of opening fire earlier this month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 people and injuring 15 others using an AR-15 style rifle that federal officials say he purchased legally almost a year ago.
Immediately after the shooting, Trump announced he would press for action on mental health issues and would work to make schools more secure. Last week, Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also said that his agency “will be laser-focused” on addressing serious mental illness, according to ABC News.
But many have criticized the administration’s emphasis on mental health issues and unwillingness to broach gun control solutions. Parent Nicole Hockley, who lost a child in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012, spoke at the listening session about the importance of addressing mental health separately from gun violence.
“I think it’s important to note that someone with a mental illness is highly unlikely to ever commit an act of violence,” said Hockley. “It’s a very, very small percentage. What we’re really dealing with here is more of a lack of mental wellness.”
Medical experts have also warned about conflating mental health issues with gun violence. Dr. Louis Kraus, a forensic psychiatry chief at Chicago’s Rush University Medical College told ABC News that the concept that mental illness is a precursor to violent behavior is “nonsense.”
“The vast majority of gun violence is not attributable to mental illness,” Kraus said.
Meanwhile, Shannon Watts, the founder of of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots group working to end gun violence, asked on Twitter after the listening session why Parkland students such as Emma Gonzalez, who has spoken passionately for tougher gun laws, were not at the listening session.
“The focus seem to be focused on everything but easy access to guns,” wrote Watts on Twitter.
I want to know why Emma Gonzalez and the Parkland students in the national spotlight aren’t at the President’s listening session. The focus seem to be focused on everything but easy access to guns.
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) February 21, 2018
Although Trump promised those gathered on Wednesday that he would take steps to improve background checks for gun buyers, he also suggested that arming teachers could help prevent massacres, according to Reuters.
Six Stoneman Douglas High School students spoke at the gathering on Wednesday, and many praised Trump and how he responded to the Parkland shooting.
But Samuel Zeif, who lost his best friend in the massacre, broke down in tears as he told Trump that he couldn’t understand why it’s so easy to walk into a store and purchase a “weapon of war,” an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
“How do we not stop this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook? I’m sitting with a mother that lost her son. It’s still happening,” said Zeif, sobbing.
Zeif cited a mass shooting in Tasmania, Australia that occurred in 1996 and prompted legislation that outlawed automatic and semi-automatic rifles in that country. Research shows that gun-related homicides dropped 7.5 percent per year after the gun reforms went into effect in Australia.
“We need to do something. And that’s why we’re here,” said Zeif. “So let’s be strong for the fallen who don’t have a voice to speak anymore, and let’s never let this happen again. Please, please.”