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Trump brings the gun-control conversation back to himself and 'fake news'

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President Trump on Feb. 21 hosted a discussion at the White House about school shootings. Several students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., recalled the shooting that they survived. (The Washington Post)

The role of consoler-in-chief does not come naturally to President Trump, but he made an effort Wednesday afternoon. He appeared misty-eyed, at times, during a meeting at the White House with survivors of last week’s shooting at a Florida high school. At one point, he handed a tissue to a girl seated beside him.

“I want to hear you,” Trump told the students, though he apparently required some prompting. On Twitter in the evening, he said, “I will always remember the time I spent today with courageous students, teachers and families.”

By Thursday morning, however, Trump’s mood had turned to anger — not at the cruelty of the students’ situation but at the way the media had reported something he said during the session.

Trump did not specify which reports he found objectionable, but his complaint about CNN would seem to refer to the network’s Wednesday-night, town-hall-style event that featured questions from Parkland, Fla., students, parents and teachers.

“President Trump said today that we should consider arming teachers,” moderator Jake Tapper said. “We’ll hear what a Stoneman Douglas teacher thinks about that, next.”

The teacher, Ashley Kurth, said she is a Second Amendment-supporting, Trump-voting Republican but also suggested it would be unfair to expect educators to double as armed guards.

“Am I supposed to get extra training now to serve and protect, on top of educate these children?” Kurth asked.

Tapper’s summary of Trump’s remarks was accurate, though it did not detail the entirety of the president’s proposal. Here’s what Trump had said earlier at the White House:

This would only be, obviously, for people that are very adept at handling a gun. And it would be — it’s called concealed carry, where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They’d go for special training, and they would be there, and you would no longer have a gun-free zone. “Gun-free zone,” to a maniac — because they’re all cowards — a gun-free zone is, “Let’s go in and let’s attack, because bullets aren’t coming back at us.” … If you had a teacher with — who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly.

Trump did not mention the shooting survivors who spoke out on CNN in any of his eight tweets Thursday morning. He also didn’t mention Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who was the center of some heated exchanges at the forum. The president did praise National Rifle Association executives Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox as “Great People and Great American Patriots.” LaPierre addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday morning.

Trump’s tweets do not mean that he was insincere in his meeting with students, but they are a reminder that his sensitivity to media coverage can make him seem insensitive. His session at the White House and the CNN special were emotional and powerful, yet the first thing the president needed to get off his chest Thursday morning was a grievance about “fake news.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s predecessor was tweeting this:

A January Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that even a plurality of Republicans view Trump’s Twitter habit as more harmful than helpful to his presidency. And tweets about “fake news” — 161 of them, as president — are among his most frequent outbursts.

Then again, if Trump comes through on the gun-control measures he says he supports — expanded background checks, a ban on bump stocks and a requirement that gun buyers be at least 21 years old — then his ability or inability to strike the right note on Twitter might seem relatively insignificant, in this case.

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