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Todd Beamon

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday called for concealed carry laws for teachers and ending gun-free school zones that triggered a strong debate within the audience at a White House listening session.

"A teacher would have a concealed gun on them," Trump told more than 40 people in the State Dining Room. "They would go for special training.

"They would be there — and you would no longer have a gun-free zone.

"A gun-free zone to a maniac is, 'Let's go in and let's attack' — because bullets aren't coming back at us."

Trump noted that, on average, a school shooting lasts about 3 minutes, with first responders generally arriving within as long as 8 minutes.

"If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly," the president said.

"Let's say you had 20 percent of your teaching force" with concealed guns, he posed, "and an attack has lasted on average about 3 minutes.

"It takes 5 to 8 minutes for responders for the police to come in. So the attack is over."

The White House session brought together students, parents, administrators, local officials and Cabinet members.

Many participants were affected by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as well as shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Several students who have experienced gun violence in the Washington region also participated.

Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also attended the session.

"We want to hear your hearts today," Pence said. "I encourage you to be candid and be vulnerable, share with us not only the personal experience, but what it is that you would have us to do."

DeVos said that "we're here to listen, to gain your important perspective on ways to reduce violence and to protect students.

"Our hope is that by talking and by listening, we can make something that was unthinkably bad something good."

President Trump also called for stronger background checks and greater mental-health counseling.

"Background checks will be very strong," Trump said. "We need that.

"And, then, after we do that, when we see there is trouble, we have no nab them."

Generally, the president sat quietly, listening as many recounted their experiences — often in quavering voices and anguished tones.

"I was lucky enough to come home from school," Julia Cordover, 18, Stoneman's senior class president, told Trump. "Unlike some of my other classmates and teachers.

"It's very scary—and knowing that a lot of people did not have this opportunity to be here still is mind-blowing."

Samuel Zeif, 18, another Stoneman senior, said that he was on the second floor when the shooting began and that his 14-year-old brother was in the classroom where geography teacher Scott Beigel was killed.

"I can't feel comfortable in my country knowing that people have, will have, ever going to have to feel like this.

"I want to feel safe at school."

One parent, Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter, Meadow, was shot nine times at Stoneman, said that "we, as a country, failed our children.

"This shouldn't happen.

"We need to come together as a country and work on what is important," he said. "That is protecting our children in the schools.

"That is the only thing that matters right now."

President Trump acknowledged the comments, but his call for concealed carry and ending gun-free zones sparked a strong debate within the room.

"I don't want the kids to know," Fred Abt, whose daughter, Carson, 17, is a Stoneman junior who survived the attack. "I don't want the shooters to know who has the firearms.

"I don't want to have people walking around with firearms on the side.

"But when they put the kids in the closets, I want the teacher to open that safe, pull out that firearm and be ready to do what needs to be done while you are waiting for the SWAT teams to come."

Andrew Pollack Jr., Meadow's brother, who graduated from Stoneman in 2015, suggested enlisting retired police officers for "discreet" weapons training with teachers.

"If a teacher or security guard has a concealed license, and a firearm on their waist, they are able to easily stop the situation," he said.

"Or, the bad guy would not even go near the school knowing, that someone can fight back against them."

But Curtis Lawrence, principal of Friendship Public Charter School in Washington, countered that "I'm against having a teacher with a gun in a building.

"Teachers are emotional," he said. "People are emotional."

Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son was killed at Sandy Hook in 2012, said that "schoolteachers have more than enough responsibilities right now than to have to have the awesome responsibility of using lethal force to take a life."

His comments drew applause in the room.

"Nobody wants to see a shoot-out in school," he said.

"A deranged sociopath on his way to commit an act of murder in a school, knowing the outcome is going to be suicide, is not going to care if there is somebody there with a gun."