WASHINGTON — Urging the arming of many teachers and school security guards, President Donald Trump said Friday the armed officer who didn’t stop the gunman who carried out last week’s Florida massacre was either a “coward” or “didn’t react properly under pressure.”
Departing the White House for the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump told reporters that “when it came time to get in there and do something,” Florida deputy Scot Peterson “didn’t have the courage or something happened.”
“He certainly did a poor job, there’s no question about that,” Trump said. He repeated his criticism at the conference.
Long supported by the National Rifle Association, the president has sought to maintain his backing among gun rights activists even as he has called for strengthening background checks and raising the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles in the wake of the mass killing.
Turning to this year’s elections, Trump told conservative activists at CPAC that Republicans must not be complacent in the fall midterms, warning of terrible consequences if Democrats take control of Congress.
Trump predicted Democrats would “take away those massive tax cuts,” referencing to his signature tax law signed in December, “and they will take away your Second Amendment.” Trump then surveyed the audience of conservatives on which issue was more important to them, and listened as the crowd cheered loudly in support of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Basking in the glow of some of his most hard-core supporters, Trump argued that his administration has kept his campaign promises, boasting as he often does that he “had the most successful first year in the history of the presidency.”
And he re-aired themes from his 2016 campaign, citing a “very crooked media, we had a crooked candidate, too, by the way,” referencing former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. The crowd chanted, “lock her up,” a common refrain at Trump campaign rallies.
Trump’s speech at CPAC came at the end of a week that included meetings with students and teachers and state and local officials on ways to bolster school safety and address gun violence. Trump said the “evil massacre” of 17 people at a Florida high school last week had “broken our hearts.”
Trump said designating schools as “gun-free zones” puts students in “far more danger.” He reiterated his push for “gun-adept teachers and coaches” to be able to carry concealed firearms and said it was “time to make our schools a much harder target for attackers — we don’t want them in our schools.”
If a teacher had been carrying a concealed firearm at the Florida school, “the teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened,” Trump said.
Officials announced Thursday that deputy Scot Peterson never went inside to engage the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School while the shooting was underway. Peterson has resigned.
“It was a real shot to the police department,” Trump said before leaving the White House. “This could have been prevented.”
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Oxon Hill, Md., contributed to this report.