Dozens of teenage students lay down on the pavement in front of the White House on Monday to demand presidential action on gun control after 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Florida.
Parent and educators joined the gathering, where protesters held their arms crossed at their chests. Two activists covered themselves with an American flag while another held a sign asking: “Am I next?”
“It’s really important to express our anger and the importance of finally trying to make a change and having gun control in America,” said Ella Fesler, a 16-year-old high school student from Alexandria, Virginia.
She added: “Every day when I say ‘bye’ to my parents, I do acknowledge the fact that I could never see my parents again.”
Meanwhile the White House said Donald Trump was supporting an effort to improve background checks on gun buyers.
The US president has been criticised for his tepid response to the shooting and his past vigorous backing of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said Trump had been in talks with the Republican senator John Cornyn and the Democratic senator Chris Murphy about a bill that aimed to strengthen how state and federal governments report crimes that could ban people from buying a firearm.
“The president spoke to Senator Cornyn on Friday about the bipartisan bill he and Senator Murphy introduced to improve federal compliance with criminal background check legislation,” Sanders said. “While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system.”
Students, teachers and politicians have urged Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress to act following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, to prevent a future tragedy.
David Hogg, a 17-year-old student at the school, told NBC’s Meet the Press: “You’re the president. You’re supposed to bring this nation together, not divide us. How dare you.”
The bipartisan Cornyn-Murphy bill, announced last November after the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs in Cornyn’s home state of Texas, falls well short of what many activists want, but offers Congress a chance to say it is not doing nothing.
It seeks to ensure that federal and state authorities accurately report relevant information, including criminal history, to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (Nics), the Texas Tribune reported.
“For years, agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Cornyn said.
Murphy is one of the most outspoken members of the Senate on gun control. His home state is Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown in 2012.
Michael Hammond of the lobby group Gun Owners of America told the Guardian he believed it would be a “huge mistake” if the Trump administration threw its weight behind the legislation, called the Fix Nics Act.
“We feel that Bonnie and Clyde are basically already in the Nics system, and the incremental names that would be attend as a result of this $625m bribe pot are names that probably shouldn’t be in there,” Hammond said.
Hammond said it was not yet clear what agreement the administration had made with Cornyn on “cleaning up” the background check system.
“Saying ‘revisions to the Fix Nics bill might be needed’ suggests to us that Cornyn didn’t completely sell him on it. To the extent that the president would consider Fix Nics that would be to us very disappointing. Over the next couple of days, our members are going to be contacting the White House in fairly large numbers to let him know what the exactly problems with this bill are, problems that weren’t necessarily communicated to Trump by Cornyn.”
He added: “Fix Nics is a huge mistake and it would be a massive political mistake if Republicans are the party that finally delivered on gun control after Obama had failed for eight years.”
Nikolas Cruz, the suspect in the Parkland school shooting, appeared in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom on Monday for a brief procedural hearing. He nodded once or twice to acknowledge his public defenders, but otherwise stared down and said nothing.
Trump has a history of shifting his positions in response to events or advice. Before he entered the political fray in earnest, he expressed support for a ban on assault weapons and “a slightly longer waiting period” to purchase a gun.
But during his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump ran as an unabashedly pro-gun candidate, warning the NRA: “The only way to save our second amendment is to vote for a person that you all know named Donald Trump.”
Trump has since overturned a Barack Obama-era regulation restricting certain people from buying guns. Critics said this made it easier for people with mental illness to access to weapons, increasing the threat to themselves or others.
After last year’s massacre in Las Vegas, the president said he was potentially open to banning bump stocks, an accessory used to more rapidly fire rounds, but there has been no notable action by the White House since.
The Guardian reported on Sunday that Slide Fire Solutions, a bump stock manufacturer, was offering 10% off in a Presidents’ Day sale with the coupon code “Maga” – a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America great again”.
Trump also provoked anger over the weekend by conflating the issue of gun violence with the special counsel’s investigation into his Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He wrote on Twitter that the FBI missed “many signals” about the Florida gunman, claiming that the agency was spending “too much time” trying to prove Russian collusion.
Trump met injured victims and first responders from the Parkland shooting on Friday night. He spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida but did not play his customary golf, according to a pooled press report. However, the president returned to the golf course on Monday. The driver of an official van carrying journalists nearby was detained during a security screening for what he said was a personal firearm found in his baggage, a pool report said.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press
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