President Donald Trump said Wednesday the administration is going to strengthen background checks for gun purchases and “put a strong emphasis on mental health,” as he promised students and families “we are going to get it done.”
The president, Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hosted students, teachers and families affected by the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting for a “listening session” at the White House on Wednesday, which lasted close to two hours.
Exactly one week ago, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, whom the president described as “a sick guy,” opened fire at the high school and now is charged with killing 17 teachers and students with an AR-15 rifle.
“We are going to be very strong on background checks, and put a very strong emphasis on the mental health of somebody,” Trump said at the beginning of the listening session. “We’re going to talk and get it done. It’s been going on too long, too many instances and we’re going to get it done.”
Students and parents from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, along with Parkland city Mayor Christine Hunschofsky, attended the White House session, along with members of Sandy Hook Promise, a national non-profit organization based in Newtown, Conn., and led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Students from Friendship Public Charter School, Parkmont, and Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, D.C., also attended.
Parkland Student Body President Julia Cordover opened the session with emotional remarks for the group.
“I’m a survivor. I want you all to emphasize the point that I survived,” Cordover said. “I was lucky enough to come home from school and it is very scary to know that a lot of people did not have the opportunity to be here.”
Cordover thanked the president for addressing bump stocks earlier in the week.
The president directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to create new regulations to ban firearm modifiers, including the “bump stock” used in the Las Vegas massacre in October 2017.
A memo released by the White House earlier this week directed the DOJ to propose a rule “banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns.”
The president asked for suggestions to prevent school shootings, leaving the floor open to parents and teachers.
A parent from Parkland High School suggested that a select few teachers, administrators, or other school employees volunteer to become a designated “undercover police officer,” to manage a potential tragedy prior to the arrival of first responders.
“If a tragedy strikes, can we wait for first responders to get to the campus minutes later?” the parent said. “The challenge becomes, once it starts, to end it as quickly as possible.”
The president said the administration would look “very strongly” at the option for “concealed carry” at schools, but acknowledged that “a lot of people will be opposed to it.”
“Concealed carry only works for people that are very adept at carrying a gun,” Trump said. “Where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them, go for special training and they would be there and you would no longer have a gun free zone.”
Trump added: “A gun-free zone to a maniac, they’re all cowards, it’s ‘let’s go in and attack because bullets aren’t coming at us.’”
The president said that an attack lasts, on average “three minutes.”
“It takes five to eight minutes for first responders. So the attack is over. If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end [the attack],” Trump said. “We are looking at that very strongly. A lot of people will be opposed to it. A lot of people are gonna like it.”
Trump suggested having “20 percent of your teaching force” representing the “type of talent” capable of concealed carry. Trump also floated the idea to add security, like former “marines, people who left the Air Force” to be “spread evenly throughout the school.”
The president has also signaled a willingness to raise the minimum age for purchasing certain firearms in the wake of last week’s school shooting in Parkland.
A White House source told Fox News on Wednesday that Trump is open to a number of measures to address mass shootings, including a rise in the minimum age for buying firearms.
Under current federal law, licensed firearm dealers cannot sell handguns to people under 21 and cannot sell long guns to people under 18, according to the Giffords Law Center, which tracks gun laws and advocates for more restrictions. Some states already impose laws with tighter minimum age requirements.
The National Rifle Association quickly rejected any talk of raising the age for buying long guns to 21.
“Legislative proposals that prevent law-abiding adults aged 18-20 years old from acquiring rifles and shotguns effectively prohibits them for purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their constitutional right to self-protection,” the group said in a statement.
It is unclear, however, whether Trump will push for a change in federal law, or encourage a change at the state level.
The president has expressed support for the Second Amendment and said he’s against reflexive gun control measures that wouldn’t stop tragedies. The NRA endorsed Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and has yet to comment on the president’s current stance on gun control.
“Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
The listening session, Trump’s openness to tightening age restrictions, and the directive to the Justice Department reflect a different response from the White House than in the aftermath of previous tragedies.
Following the Las Vegas massacre, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that it was “premature to discuss policy when we don’t know all the facts,” and added, “we can have those policy conversations, but today is not the day.”
Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott also is slated to meet with students from Parkland Wednesday evening.
“In addition to what we’re going to with background checks, we’re going to go very strong into age of purchase, and very strongly into the mental health aspect of what’s going on,” Trump said. “This person, who was very sick, and people knew he was very sick. We’re also going to look at the institutions, what you do when you find someone like this.”
He added: “All I can say is we’re fighting hard for you and we will not stop. I grieve for you. There can be nothing worse than what you’ve gone through. Thank you for pouring out your hearts because the world is watching and we’re going to come up with a solution.”
Fox News’ John Roberts and Alex Pappas contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.
‘Designed to break you’: British-Australian academic had suicidal thoughts in Iranian jail | World News
A British-Australian academic who was convicted and imprisoned in Iran for spying has said she had suicidal thoughts while in solitary confinement.
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert was jailed for ten years on charges of espionage in September 2018. She was released in November 2020 in exchange for three Iranians being held abroad.
She had vehemently denied the charges and maintained her innocence.
Her 804 days behind bars included seven months in solitary confinement – where she went on hunger strikes and was interrogated and beaten by guards.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News Australia, Ms Moore-Gilbert has shared her inspirational story of survival.
She said that the solitary confinement room “is designed to break you”.
“It’s psychological torture. You go completely insane. It is so damaging,” she revealed.
“I would say I felt physical pain from the psychological trauma I had in that room. It is a two-by-two metre box – there is no toilet, there is no television.”
She said there were times when she “felt broken” during her days in solitary confinement and had suicidal thoughts.
“I felt if I have to endure another day of this – you know if I could I would just kill myself. But of course I never tried and I never took that step,” she added.
In September 2018, Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert had checked in to her flight home to Australia when she was arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Dr Moore-Gilbert was held in Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran, the same jail as British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The release of Dr Moore-Gilbert showed there could be “light at the end of the tunnel” for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her husband Richard previously said.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released by the Iranian authorities on 7 March, but was scheduled to face a second set of charges on 14 March.
The 43-year-old was arrested at Tehran airport while taking her infant daughter to see her parents in April 2016.
She was later jailed over allegations of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government – which she denies.
Myanmar’s ambassador to UK calls for release of Aung San Suu Kyi as protesters defy curfew | World News
Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK has called on his country’s military to release detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint.
After speaking to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and junior British foreign minister Nigel Adams, Kyaw Swar Minn said the answer to the crisis was diplomacy.
“We request the release of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint,” he said in a statement published on the embassy’s Facebook page, echoing the UK government’s own repeated calls for those locked away since last month’s military coup to be freed.
The appeal comes after security forces besieged around 200 young anti-coup protesters in the Sanchaung neighbourhood on Monday, as they defied an 8pm curfew.
“Free the students in Sanchaung,” people chanted in the streets in districts across the former capital, where daily protests have taken place for more than a month.
In some areas, police used stun grenades and fired shots to try to disperse protesters, witnesses said. A live stream on social media showed protesters running between houses as stun grenades detonated.
“Almost 200 young protesters are still blocked by the police and soldiers there. Local and international community needs to help them now! Please,” one protest leader, Maung Saungkha, said on Twitter.
Amid the continued violence, the US Embassy said in a statement: “We call on those security forces to withdraw and allow people to go home safely.”
The United Nations’ (UN) human rights office voiced deep concern about the fate of the protesters trapped, with high commissioner Michelle Bachelet saying they should be allowed to leave safely and without reprisals.
A spokesman for the military junta, which took control on 1 February, did not answer calls requesting comment.
The violence also continued in the northern town of Myitkyina, where witnesses said two protesters died of gunshot wounds to the head.
Another person was killed in the town of Phyar Pon in the Irrawaddy Delta, a political activist and local media said.
Police said they would scrutinise family registration lists in the area to check for outsiders – threatening action against anyone caught concealing them.
State television MRTV said: “The government’s patience has run out and while trying to minimise casualties in stopping riots, most people seek complete stability are calling for more effective measures against riots.”
Security forces also clamped down on anti-coup protesters elsewhere, firing tear gas to break up a crowd of about 1,000 people who were demonstrating in the capital, Naypyitaw. The protesters deployed fire extinguishers to create a smoke screen as they fled from authorities.
According to the UN, more than 50 people have been killed by security forces in the junta’s attempt to end the protests demanding the release of Ms Suu Kyi and other detainees following her party’s landslide election victory last year.
Protesters in some places waved flags fashioned from htamain (women’s sarongs) or hung them up on lines across the street to mark International Women’s Day.
Traditionally, walking beneath women’s sarongs is considered bad luck for men, and MRTV said such a display was severely insulting to religion in largely Buddhist Myanmar.
Analysis: Myanmar’s military won’t be feeling the pressure – and more blood will be shed
By Alistair Bunkall, defence and security correspondent
It’s not just international governments publicly rounding on Myanmar’s military, the country’s own diplomats are too.
Last week Myanmar’s top envoy to the United Nations, U Kyaw Moe Tun, spoke out against the coup and raised his hand and three fingers in a sign of defiance.
Now, after being summoned to the Foreign Office in London, Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK has called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and said that the military must respect the outcome of the 2020 election.
These are headline-grabbing stands, and it has taken some personal bravery by both men to break ranks, but it’s unlikely to have much effect.
So far the international community has failed to come up with coordinated action to put meaningful pressure on the junta. Having weathered years of sanctions in the past, the military will be confident it can do the same.
The best hope is still the growing resistance within Myanmar itself, but the only certainty is that more blood will be shed.
COVID-19: Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine shows promise against Brazil coronavirus variant in laboratory testing | World News
The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was able to combat the Brazil variant of COVID-19, it has been revealed.
Scientists tested the blood of people who had received the jab and found it fared well against a laboratory made version of the virus similar to the one first discovered in Brazil.
The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, could calm fears about the P.1 variant, which has been found to spread more quickly than other types of the coronavirus since it emerged in South America.
Scientists from the two medical companies and the University of Texas created a version of the virus that had the same spike protein mutations as the P.1 variant.
This is what was tested in the blood of those who had been vaccinated.
The spike protein is the part of the virus used to get into human cells, and many of the vaccines target this part of the virus.
The scientists found the antibodies from the blood was able to neutralise the test virus.
Other studies showed that the Pfizer/BioNTech jab worked against variants of the coronavirus first discovered in the UK and South Africa – although the South African variant may reduce the protective antibodies stimulated by the vaccine.
Pfizer has said that it believes its current inoculation is highly likely to still provide protection against the South African variant.
But the pharmaceutical giant is planning to test a third booster dose of its jab as well as creating a version of the drug specifically designed to combat the variant.
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