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Remarks at a Roundtable Discussion on the Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety and an Exchange With Reporters

December 18, 2018

The President. Thank you very much. We're here to discuss concrete steps of our Nation that we have to take—we have no choice, and we don't want a choice—we're going to take to prevent school shootings and keep our children safe.

Following the horrific shooting in Parkland, my administration formed the School Safety Commission. Today the Commission released its official report, and that's a very important thing. These are some of the people—parents and—incredible parents that I've gotten to know—and some of the people that are most involved with the tragedy of Parkland.

The report includes nearly 100 detailed recommendations based on the input from families; educators; mental health practitioners; law enforcement; and Federal, State, and local leaders. And I will say this: Every one of them is knowledgeable.

I want to thank Secretary Betsy DeVos for leading the Commission, along with the other Commission members: Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, Secretary Alex Azar, and Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Thank you very much.

We're also joined by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi—thank you, Pam; Montana Superintendent Elsie Arntzen; Kentucky Sheriff Kevin Byars; and president of the Santa Fe Texas School Board, Rusty Norman. Thank you all very much. Thank you, everybody, for being here. Appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you.

Most importantly, we are honored to be joined by Carson Abt, a brave survivor of the Parkland shooting; along with families who have lost their loved ones in this horrible, horrible school shooting: Andy Pollack, Ryan Petty, Max Schachter, Scarlett Lewis, and J.T. Lewis. Terrific people. Your courage in the face of this horrible event—the grief—inspires us all.

Last week, I met with Max, Ryan, and many other Parkland families. We are profoundly grateful to all of the families who are working with us to help prevent others from suffering the same terrible heartache and tragedy.

My administration is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to address school violence. We enacted two critical reforms into law. The Fix NICS Act, which you know about, which strengthens very strongly the background checks for firearm purchases. And the STOP School Violence Act, which provides grants to schools to improve safety. And they've gone a long way.

We have also secured historic levels of funding to give schools and police more resources to protect their students. This morning we also completed the process to issue a new regulation banning bump stocks. And Matt will be talking about that in a minute.

We've taken important steps, but much work remains to be done, as always. Today we are reviewing the recommendations put forward by the School Safety Commission. These include fixing mental health laws so that families and law enforcement can get treatment immediately to those who need it; encouraging States to adopt extreme-risk protection orders, which give law enforcement and family members more authority to keep firearms out of the hands of those who pose a danger to themselves and to others; launching a "No Notoriety" campaign, which would encourage the media not to use the names or, frankly, anything having to do with the shooters. I see it all the time; they make these people famous. And they're not famous; they're the opposite. They're horrible, horrible people. I think that's a very important one: "No Notoriety" campaign.

Supporting local efforts to create a culture that cherishes life and fosters deep and meaningful human connections. Allowing highly trained school personnel to have access to firearms. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the average duration of an active shooter incident at a school is under 5 minutes. All of this horrible carnage takes place in a very short period of time. That is why it's critical to have armed personnel available at a moment's notice. These are people—teachers, in many cases—that are the highest trained that you can get. People that are natural to firearms. People that know how to handle them. People that have great experience and, on top of the experience, have taken courses. And they're right on the site.

This is critical to the hardening of our schools against attack. Also, they love our students. I've seen the teachers. I've seen so many of them, over the last 2 years especially where something has happened, and they truly love their students. And by loving their students, they want to fight for their students, more than anybody else would.

But for any strategy to succeed, there must be accountability to all levels of government, and we must ensure communities can respond quickly and decisively to warning signs, stopping tragedy before it strikes. And that's obviously our number-one goal: stopping it before it ever happens.

I look forward to discussion today. And we're going to have a big discussion. And you can stay around, if you want, for a little while. Some of these folks have incredible things to say. Incredible. And the incredible ideas—we couldn't have had the ideas that they have as parents and as loved ones. Nothing is more important than protecting our Nation's children.

So, with that, I'd like to just ask Betsy to say a few words. And, Matt, you're going to talk about bump stocks.

Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker. Yes, sir.

The President. And we'll go around and talk to some of the folks. Please, Betsy.

Secretary of Education Elisabeth Prince DeVos. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you.

Secretary DeVos. After the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, you took swift action. No parent should fear for their child's life when they go to school, and no student or teacher should ever have to worry about their safety at school.

Sadly, incidents of school violence are too common, and too many families and communities have faced these horrible challenges. But Americans have never shied away from challenges, nor have we cowered when evil manifests itself.

Mr. President, you showed leadership by promptly convening students, families, and educators to have honest dialogues about school violence. And when you asked me to chair the Federal Commission on School Safety, you rightly insisted that our Nation must come together to address the underlying issues that foster a culture of violence. You noted that we cannot keep our children safe by looking at only one aspect of a much larger problem. Today we present our completed report, and I want to thank my fellow Commissioners and their staffs for all of the great work that was done on this report. The report addresses a holistic view of school safety, based on the insights, experiences, and expertise of many individuals. Our recommendations can assist States and local communities.

Ultimately, Governors and State legislators should work with school leaders, teachers, parents, and students to address their own unique challenges and develop their own specific solutions. How schools and communities consider these recommendations will vary. Their approach should start by fostering a positive climate and a culture of connectedness.

This report highlights social and emotional learning and a number of other recommendations that policymakers should explore. But let's remember, local problems need local solutions. Ultimately, the recommendations do not and cannot supplant the incomparable role that families play in the lives of children and in our culture. To the families of Meadow, of Alaina, of Jesse, and of Alex, and of the other families not here today, we hope the actions that come out of this commission's work will spare other families future tragedies and grief.

The President. Thank you, Betsy.

Secretary DeVos. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Appreciate it. Matt.

Acting Attorney General Whitaker. Sir, under your strong leadership, the Department of Justice has prosecuted more gun crimes this year than ever before. And in addition, today we faithfully have followed your leadership by making clear that bump stocks, which turn semiautomatic weapons into machineguns, are illegal. We all remember what happened in Las Vegas on October 1, and I don't have to recount that horrific day, but, you know, the shooter that day used a bump stock to accelerate the carnage that was inflicted.

The final rule that was signed today, the Department of Justice clarified that bump-stock-type devices are machineguns and are prohibited by Federal law. And anyone possessing these bump stock devices have about 90 days to either destroy them or turn them into an ATF field office before this rule becomes final and it's enforced. So I think that's a big victory for your administration, sir.

The President. Good.

Acting Attorney General Whitaker. And then, briefly on school safety and DOJ's role, we participated in all of the events and all of the field visits. We specifically worked on issues like the extreme-risk protection orders, the ERPO that you mentioned. We obviously—we've made improvements to the FBI tip line that I know some of the parents were concerned about coming out of the Parkland shooting.

We continue to provide crisis and emergency training for law enforcement, and we will continue to do that. And we looked at the issue of age restrictions on firearms, and we just did not have any existing evidence-based research that suggests that would make a difference, but we're going to continue to sponsor and fund research so that we can get an answer to that question.

The President. Good.

And the bump stocks—so you have to go through a statutory period.

Acting Attorney General Whitaker. Yes. The President. And once you go through that period, that's going to be the end of bump stocks.

Acting Attorney General Whitaker. So there's a 90-day grace period——

The President. Right

Acting Attorney General Whitaker. ——that this—about March 21 is when they will finally become unlawful to possess.

The President. Good. Good. And that took a lot of legal work and good legal work. Thank you very much.

Acting Attorney General Whitaker. You know, and the other thing on the bump stocks, sir, that you should know is we received 186,000 comments as part of our rulemaking. Most of them were positive comments, but we had to sift through all of them and make sure that our rulemaking was done the right way and we considered all those comments.

The President. When you say "positive"—positive in that——

Acting Attorney General Whitaker. Positive. They supported the action that your administration took today.

The President. Good. Okay, good. That's great. Thank you very much, Matt.


Florida State Attorney General Pamela J. Bondi. President, thank you for caring. You always care so much about our kids and our kids' safety. And that means so much to this country.

I went to assist in Nevada after that shooting, saw the carnage. Meadow's brother Hunter is my intern. And I was with Max since that night it happened. I'll never forget that, Max.

And to all these great families, who you've listened to and cared so much about, you're saving so many lives. And Secretary and the entire Commission, thank you.

The President. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Good job you do. Great job in Florida.

Attorney General Bondi. Thank you.

The President. What about it, Max?

Safe Schools for Alex Founder Max Schacter. I want to thank you, Mr. President. Ever since Alex was murdered, I've been traveling this country to see what schools are doing well and are making our schools safe. And I've come to the conclusion that a lot of schools just don't know how to make them safe.

[At this point, Mr. Schacter continued his remarks, concluding as follows.]

So this report recommended the creation of a clearinghouse, a repository to produce national school safety best practices. This has never been done before, and I think this specific recommendation is going to make schools across the country safer, and children.

So thank you very much.

The President. Thank you very much. Great job you've done too. Appreciate it.

Carson, please. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Carson Abt. Hi. I think, touching upon what Max was saying, there are great recommendations in this but now it's up to the States and to schools to actually put these recommendations to action. We've—on the Federal level—we've gone as far as you can regarding this, and now it's up to the States and the schools. And there are a wide variety of recommendations, and while all of them are helpful, only one may be needed to change a school or to save someone's life.

And, as a student in Douglas now, I look at this school and I see what's been done already. Specifically, one of the things I've noticed is, we have a lot more drills and protocols about what to do in, not just active shooter drills, but in any emergency drills. And that's something where it's not just necessary for a school, but it's necessary for life. Because this isn't just happening at schools, this is happening in movie theaters and concerts——

The President. It's true.

Ms. Abt. And if you know what to do a young age, it's going to unfortunately be instinct by the time you're older. And while it's unfortunate, it will help keep you safe.

So I thank you, Secretary, Mr. President, and all the other Secretaries for creating a large report of recommendations, because it gives a wide variety for schools to choose from.

The President. Thanks, Carson. I appreciate it.


Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School parent Andrew Pollack. Thank you, Mr. President. Right after my daughter was murdered, I came to the listening session here at the White House, and I addressed the country. And I said: "We all need to come together and focus on school safety. It's something we all could agree on." And after that happened, there was a lot of people in the country that just wanted a certain agenda, okay? And I get—and you all know what that agenda is.

[Mr. Pollack continued his remarks, concluding as follows.]

And that's what it's about: Looking at the past—looking at what happened, and looking to prevent it from happening it again. Okay? That's what you do. You look at the facts, what it led up to February 14, and you look to change things. And that's what this administration did, and I want to thank you so much for doing that. Thank you, sir.

The President. Thank you very much, Andy.


Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement Founder Scarlett Lewis. Yes, well this is Jesse, President Trump.

[Ms. Lewis displayed a photograph of her son Jesse, who was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, on December 14, 2012.]

And Jesse actually stood up to the shooter when he came into his first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook. And his brave action saved nine of his classmates' lives before losing his own. And I wanted to talk about that courage today, especially because I think that—I want to thank you for your courage. Betsy, for your courage. You really listened. When I opened the report, the number-one thing in the report was proactive prevention and social emotional learning.

[Ms. Lewis continued her remarks, concluding as follows.] You've got that in this report. This is the first administration to do that, and I want to thank you for your courage.

The President. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Ms. Lewis. Thank you.

The President. Secretary.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen. Well, sir, I just want to thank you for creating the Commission, and thank you for your leadership. I want to thank Secretary DeVos for all her hard work and that of her team and my other Commissioners.

But I want to thank everyone around this table. Thank you for standing up. Thank you for giving a voice to the victims and survivors and to our communities. We listened. We hope that we learned from you. This is the start. We were just discussing, this will not sit on a bookshelf. We intend to implement it under the President's guidance and leadership.

But I want to thank you all, because it's understanding the communities, what you need, what the risk is, how you would like to address it that got us to this today. So thank you very much for all of your involvement.

The President. Thank you very much. Thanks, Kirstjen.

Please, Ryan.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School parent Ryan Petty. Mr. President, thank you for having us here today. Thank you for your leadership on this issue. I'd like to thank the Commissioners, also, for their hard work. I was flying down here when this was released and trying to devour it on the plane as quickly as I could.

[Mr. Petty continued his remarks, concluding as follows.

My hope is that rather than fighting over the things we don't like or we think are missing, that as a nation we'll come together and focus on the things we do agree on. Because 99 percent of this, I think, we can agree on and we can move forward. And if we'll just agree on it, I think we can take steps towards solving this.

So, Mr. President, thank you for that.

The President. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.

There's been a lot of love doing this. You know, it's very interesting, when you talk about the report and people are loving it in terms of—hopefully, it's going to be very effective, it's going to be put to good use—but it came out of a lot of great and, really, brilliant people, and people that love what they're doing because they understand where it's all coming from and where it's going, and what you want to accomplish, much more so than just haphazardly putting a group of experts in charge. So I just want to thank everybody so much. Thank you very much.


Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II. Yes, sir, Mr. President. And I'd like to especially thank Secretary DeVos for her leadership of the Commission and the efforts here, and really echo what Scarlett had to say about the mental health issues. I think that was one of the key learnings of the Commission, was just what we're facing in terms of depression, anxiety, and self-harm thoughts of our kids. Major depression has increased by two-thirds among youth, from 2010 to 2017. One in eight children will have a major depressive episode in any given year. And mental health disorders that are not properly treated can lead to self-harm and harm for others.

And so that's one of the key outgrowths of this report, are four key areas for focus and recommendation at the Federal, State, and local level.

The first is that we've got to make sure our mental health services and connections to treatment are available at our schools. We've got to get to our kids where they feel safe.

The second is that we've got to have opportunities for more effective screening for mental health, and we've got to get kids on psychosocial and psychotropic medications to treat them.

And third, we have to have better understanding of a lot of our medical privacy laws and education privacy laws and fix them where needed to ensure that when there's a cry for help, that cry can be heard by other family members and by authorities.

And then, finally, we've got to make sure that we have available and effective treatment options for our kids who are suffering from mental health disorders.

So, Mr. President, we've got a very bold agenda here and action plan, but I think these are the right kinds of issues to solve them, to really tackle the problem, rather than just flashy things that won't actually deliver results.

The President. So, thank you, Mr. Secretary. I appreciate it. You have done a fantastic job. We appreciate it very much.


Santa Fe, TX, School Board President J.R. "Rusty" Norman. Mr. President, we definitely want to thank you, from Santa Fe, and your team, all the work that went into this. The community of Santa Fe, Santa Fe ISD, is still very much in recovery mode from the mass tragedy that we had in May. Oddly enough, I think your Commission had a meeting the day before we had our tragedy in Santa Fe. And we were given some briefings and did have an opportunity to visit with some of the Commissioners and some of the folks on the Committee shortly thereafter.

[Mr. Norman continued his remarks, concluding as follows.]

Previous administrations have tried to do things, but I have great faith in this one is actually going to go the distance to make things really happen.

The President. Thank you very much, Rusty. I appreciate it. Thank you.


Newtown Helps Rwanda Founder J.T. Lewis. Sure. Thank you for having us, by the way, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you. Thank you, J.T.

Mr. Lewis. I just want to say, since I lost my brother at Sandy Hook—and this is my mom, by the way——

The President. I know. [Laughter]

Mr. Lewis. ——it's been 19 years since Columbine, 11 years since Virginia Tech, and 6 years, on Friday, since Sandy Hook. And we've met with Governors; we've met with Senators. We met with the previous administration—the President and the Secretary of Education. And everyone wanted to focus on a certain issue, as Andy said. And I won't say it, but they didn't want to focus on school safety, which is the most important thing and what this report really tackles.

[Mr. Lewis continued his remarks, concluding as follows.]

So this needs to get into the schools before something like that happens. So I want to applaud everyone here for taking the effort to do this. Thank you, Secretary DeVos. Thank you, everyone.

The President. Thank you. Thank you very much, J.T. Beautiful. Thank you.

Please, Sheriff.

Marshall County, KY, Sheriff Kevin Byars. Well, Mr. President, I want to thank you for listening. As someone has already mentioned, in previous administrations, they kind of wanted to bury their heads in the sand. You've listened. I appreciate that so much. Secretary DeVos, I appreciate all the work you've done. Everything in here is spot on, from a law enforcement aspect.

[Sheriff Byars continued his remarks, concluding as follows.]

And I agree with Mr. Norman, this has got to stop. We've got to change, and this is a great step in that direction. And I want to thank you.

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you, Sheriff.


Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you very much for your leadership within this. From a rural State, with a rural voice at the table here, thank you for not having it be top down. This is organic. This is coming from the bottom up. And it is not a mandate. All of the things that are here are going to be put into play in any fashion that can happen in Montana or across any of our other very rural States.

Teachers—I taught for 23 years. How exciting this is to put in the hand of teachers—teacher leaders—to protect our most treasured: our students. I thank you for your leadership. And thank you very much, Secretary DeVos.

The President. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

So this is available to everybody. I think you probably have a copy; if not, we'll get you one. And it will be at your disposal. And more importantly, it will be sent all over the country to different schools. And I think we have a lot of tremendous ideas here put up by tremendous people.

So thank you all for being here. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Potential Federal Government Shutdown

Q. Mr. President, can I ask about the shutdown?

The President. We'll see what happens.

Q. Well, you say that, but what about——

The President. Too early to say, sorry. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Q. Are you still willing to shut it down for $5 billion?

The President. Thank you very much, everybody.

The President. We need border security. Thank you very much, everybody.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:40 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, Mr. Lewis referred to former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Donald J. Trump, Remarks at a Roundtable Discussion on the Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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