By CATHERINE LUCEY
WASHINGTON (AP) — Declaring the nation united and grieving with “one heavy heart,” President Donald Trump promised Thursday to tackle school safety and “the difficult issue of mental health” in response to the deadly shooting in Florida. He made no mention of the scourge of gun violence.
Not always a natural in the role of national comforter, Trump spoke deliberately, at one point directly addressing children who may feel “lost, alone, confused or even scared.”
“I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be,” Trump said. “You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.”
While Trump stressed the importance of mental health and school safety improvements, his latest budget request would slash Medicaid, the major source of federal funding for treating mental health problems, and cut school safety programs by more than a third. Last year, he signed a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.
The president spoke to the nation from the White House, one day after a former student with an AR-15 rifle opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 14 more. It was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, more than five years ago.
Trump, who owns a private club in Palm Beach, Florida, about 40 miles away, said he planned to visit the grieving community, but no date was immediately set. He canceled plans to promote his infrastructure plan in Orlando on Friday and to attend a campaign rally in Pennsylvania next week.
Trump’s silence on guns was noted with displeasure by many who are seeking tougher firearm restrictions. But the White House said the president wanted to keep his remarks focused on the victims. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the point was “to talk about grief and show compassion in unifying the country.”
Before he was a candidate, Trump at one point favored some tighter gun regulations. But he embraced gun rights as a candidate, and the National Rifle Association spent $30 million in support of his campaign
During his brief, televised statement, Trump said he wanted to work to “create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life,” a phrase likely to resonate with his conservative base.
He pledged to work with state and local officials to “help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” adding that safe schools would be a key focus when he meets with governors and state attorneys general later this month.
Trump made no specific policy recommendations, and he did not answer shouted questions about guns as he exited the room.
In contrast, former President Barack Obama tweeted out a call for “long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws.” Obama wrote: “We are grieving with Parkland. But we are not powerless. Caring for our kids is our first job.”
In reacting to previous mass shootings, Trump has largely focused on mental health as a cause, dismissing questions about gun control. After a shooting at a Texas church in November left more than two dozen dead, the president said, “This isn’t a guns situation.”
The 19-year-old suspect in Florida, Nikolas Cruz, is a troubled teenager who posted disturbing material on social media. He had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for “disciplinary reasons,” Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel said.
The profile photo on Cruz’s Instagram account showed a masked face wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat like those associated with Trump’s campaign.
The leader of a white nationalist militia called the Republic of Florida said Cruz was a member of his group and had participated in exercises in Tallahassee. But neither the Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee nor the Southern Poverty Law Center could confirm any link between Cruz and the militia.
Trump was criticized in early August for saying that both white nationalists and counter-protesters were responsible for the violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
While Trump has offered somber responses to some tragedies, he has also drawn criticism for other reactions.
After the Orlando shootings at a gay nightclub that left 49 dead in June 2016, then-candidate Trump tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” In the wake of a deadly terror attack in London last June, he went after Mayor Sadiq Khan on Twitter.
News of Wednesday afternoon’s shooting had come as the White House was embroiled in a weeklong scandal surrounding the handling of domestic abuse allegations against Rob Porter, a top aide who resigned last week.
The typically daily White House press briefing was repeatedly delayed, as aides tried to craft a strategy on that issue. One option was to have chief of staff John Kelly, who has come under intense pressure for his handling of the Porter matter, be part of the briefing, according to two White House officials not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.
Once the magnitude of the Florida tragedy became clear, the White House canceled the briefing. The president tweeted his condolences and the White House deliberated its next move.
Kelly was not in the room when Trump addressed the nation on Thursday morning, and his job security remained an open question. But with the West Wing focused on the shooting aftermath, any immediate change seemed unlikely
Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire contributed from New York. AP writers Zeke Miller, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Maria Danilova contributed from Washington.
ELECTION FILING CLOSED: MAY 8TH SHERIFF’S PRIMARY A THREE-WAY RACE
Candidate filing in Onslow County closed at 12:00 p.m. today, with no new candidates for the Sheriff’s seat. Potential candidates Robin Knapp and Paul Buchanon did not make a showing at the Board of Elections, leaving the battle to incumbent Hans Miller, former Chief Deputy Boyd Brown, and latecomer Walter J. Scott, the former spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.
John Yopp has also washed out. He filed campaign finance paperwork in January and announced his candidacy, but never followed through with the final paperwork. The Yopp campaign never got off the ground and seems to have fizzled just as quickly as it started.
The Libertarian and Democratic parties remain empty.
Incumbent Hans Miller has faced heavy criticism over his leadership, with one source assessing him, “weaker than a packet of Kool-aid in the New River”, and many others calling for his resignation.
He’s been publicly lambasted for sweeping the Will Clifton scandal under the rug and lack of transparency about the nature of Clifton’s departure from the OCSO: claiming it was unrelated to reports of the former School Resource Officer raping a high school student. These same allegations appear to have been under an internal investigation by Miller’s Office at the time of the resignation. Of the same, Miller publicly claimed this amounted to “personal reasons” for the former deputy to tender his resignation. Flip-flopping weeks later he stated that he told the deputy to resign or be fired, but not over the criminal allegations, just what he calls a “difference in values” that had come to his attention.
The court had also intervened with Clifton by issuing multiple protective orders as a result of Clifton’s violence and apparent threats and ordered him to stay away from several minor children, having refused to do so under direction from the Sheriff’s Office during Miller’s internal investigation. This was done at the request of another Onslow Deputy, David Pickett, who was acting as a Guardian Ad Litem for a minor child.
Later it was discovered that a second, much younger victim had come forward, and Clifton faced an additional investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation.
More recently, Miller has been under fire for his apparent lack of aggressiveness in seeking charges against Kristy Kay Hunter, mom of slain tot, Mariah woods.Miller has also launched vicious attacks on competitor Boyd Brown, challenging his integrity and repeatedly calling him a thief.
Boyd Brown has increased his activity as of late, with his billboard campaign ads appearing across the county. Some streets in Onslow County are lined end-to-end with his green and yellow campaign signs, without a trace of support for Miller. Despite the attacks on his credibility, Brown has maintained a steady hand and tackled the issues head-on, offering detailed responses to Miller’s mudslinging on his Facebook page. The only one seeming to challenge Brown’s honesty is Miller, but Brown shows no sign of giving way to these dirty campaign tactics or lowering himself to Miller’s level.
A third candidate, Walter J. Scott, launched his campaign Facebook earlier this week, “Elect Walter Scott for Sheriff”, and his website, “electwalterjscott.com”.Scott has taken advantage of the platform to make a multitude of posts. He’s outlined on his page his visions, plans, and goals if elected to the Sheriff’s position, and provided additional details about his background and experience; including his service as a Patrol Commander at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s office and service on the Drug Task Force and Dive Team.
Many people in Onslow County are looking for a change this election cycle, asking for a new Sheriff that stands up for victims instead of “covering the six” of his deputies and spending every waking moment promoting himself.
Time will tell how the candidates fair at the primary, but you’ll hear it right here first, at News In Onslow!
NRA accuses gun-control advocates of exploiting FL shooting
WASHINGTON (AP) — Leaders of the National Rifle Association on Thursday accused gun control advocates of exploiting the deadly Florida school shooting, striking a defiant tone amid a renewed debate over guns and school safety.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, in his first public comments since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, said NRA members mourn for the Florida victims but at the same time issued a searing indictment of gun control proponents for attempting to “exploit tragedy for political gain.”
“They hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom,” LaPierre said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland, near the nation’s capital.
LaPierre addressed the conservative activists shortly before President Donald Trump held a listening session with state and local leaders on gun safety at the White House.
The president said he had spoken to NRA leaders and expressed optimism that the nation’s most prominent gun-owners organization would support his calls for raising the federal minimum age for buying or possessing certain weapons, enhancing background checks, addressing mental illness and banning the sale of bump stock devices.
NRA leaders did not address whether the federal government should raise the age requirement for young adults to buy weapons. A day earlier, the organization issued a statement saying it opposes raising the age limit.
“Evil walks among us and God help us if we don’t harden our schools and protect our kids,” LaPierre said. “The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous.”
LaPierre said Democrats such as House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut were eagerly blaming the NRA. He also assailed the FBI for failing to follow up on warnings about the school shooter.
“Their solution is to make you, all of you, less free,” LaPierre said of gun control advocates. “They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of family, the failure of America’s mental health system, and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI.”
The longtime face of the NRA was preceded on stage by the group’s spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, a prominent conservative radio host. She accused media outlets of focusing heavily on school shootings involving white and affluent neighborhoods instead of those occurring in inner cities.
“Many in legacy media love mass shootings, you guys love it,” Loesch said. “Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold.”
Trump says raise age for buying assault rifles, defying NRA
WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation should keep assault rifles out of the hands of anyone under 21, President Donald Trump declared Thursday, defying his loyal supporters in the National Rifle Association amid America’s public reckoning over gun violence. He also pushed hard for arming security guards and many teachers in U.S. schools.
“There’s nothing more important than protecting our children,” Trump said, adding that he’d spoken with many members of Congress and NRA officials and insisting they would go along with his plans in the wake of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
But there were no words of support from the NRA for his minimum-age proposal — and outright opposition from organizations of teachers and school security guards for the idea of arming schools to deal with intruders.
“The NRA will back it and so will Congress,” Trump contended as he called for raising the legal age of purchase for “all” guns from 18 to 21. A spokesman later said Trump was speaking specifically about semi-automatic weapons. The president’s proposal came just hours after the NRA affirmed its opposition, calling such a restriction an infringement on gun owners’ rights.
Trump has spent the past two days listening to ideas about how to stem gun violence at schools after last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Wednesday, he heard from students and family members of those killed in recent shootings and on Thursday from local and state officials.
In Florida, meanwhile, funerals continued. And a sheriff’s deputy who had been on duty at the school but never went inside to confront the shooter resigned after being suspended without pay.
Trump has been proposing a growing list of ideas, including more stringent background checks for gun buyers, reopening some mental institutions to hold potential killers and banning “bump stock” devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic machine guns.
He said Thursday that many teachers have military experience and suggested they be paid bonuses for the added responsibility of carrying weapons. He also appeared open to other proposals to “harden” schools, such as fortifying walls and limiting entry points.
One idea he didn’t like: the “active shooter” drills that some schools hold. He called that “a very negative thing” and said he wouldn’t want his own son participating.
Spokesman Raj Shah later said Trump was concerned about the name and would prefer calling them safety drills.
In Florida, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he now is open to raising age requirements for long-gun purchases. That was the day after he was confronted at a CNN town hall by Parkland students and parents over his pro-gun votes and support from the NRA.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, another Republican, told reporters during a visit to the Kansas Statehouse that he supported raising age requirements, saying: “Certainly, nobody under 21 should have an AR-15.”
NRA leaders emerged in unannounced appearances at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, blaming the FBI and local reporting failures for the Florida shooting.
“Evil walks among us and God help us if we don’t harden our schools and protect our kids,” said Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. “The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous.”
NRA officials also accused Democrats and media outlets of exploiting the Florida shooting.
“Many in legacy media love mass shootings,” spokeswoman Dana Loesch said at CPAC. “Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold.”
She and LaPierre did not mention the age requirement issue in their fiery remarks at CPAC. But Loesch said Wednesday night the NRA opposes the higher minimum age for rifles because, “if we are asking young men and women to go and serve their country (in the military) they should be able to also have a firearm.”
She added, “I’m also thinking of young women” who may need a rifle for self-protection.
The NRA was an early supporter of Trump’s campaign, and it remains unclear how far the president will go to cross them.
Shortly before LaPierre took the stage, Trump offered a rallying cry on Twitter, calling NRA leaders “Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing.”
“I don’t think I’ll be going up against them,” he said of the politically influential group. “I really think the NRA wants to do what’s right.”
In Congress, a bill being drafted by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., would apply more broadly than just to assault rifles such as the AR-15 used in the Florida shootings. It would raise the age requirements for all rifles.
In the end, Trump did not stray too far from conservative Republican orthodoxy. His focus when it comes to background checks is on mental health concerns and not loopholes that permit loose private gun sales on the internet and at gun shows. And he remains opposed to a full ban on assault rifles, Shah said.
Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he was skeptical the president would follow though.
“The last time he showed support for sensible gun reform — no fly, no buy — he quickly dropped his support once the NRA opposed it. I hope this time will be different,” Schumer said in a statement, referring to a measure backed by Democrats to prevent people on a terrorism-related “no fly” list from buying guns.
Indeed, it is not clear that the GOP-controlled Congress, which is in recess, will take up or act on a variety of legislative proposals that have been made to address gun violence. Those include measures to expand federal background checks, allow authorities to issue emergency orders to take guns from people identified as a threat to themselves or others, and raise the minimum age for rifle purchases to 21.
The current federal minimum for buying handguns from registered dealers is 21, but the requirement in most places is 18 for rifles, including assault-type weapons such as the AR-15. In some states — mostly rural states with a strong tradition of hunting — young people can buy a rifle at age 14 or 16.
Polls show growing support for gun control measures, including 97-percent backing for universal background checks in a Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday.
But recent mass shootings, including the 2012 mass murder of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, and the killing of 58 people in Las Vegas last fall, have not resulted in significant legislation. In fact, a bill passed by the House in December would make it easier for gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.
Still, Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla, said the president has a “unique ability right now to maybe really do something about these school shootings” because, at least in some districts, “nobody is more popular,” including the NRA.
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