Obama Tells Teen Anti-Gun Activists, 'We've Got Your Backs,' As Trump Promotes Arming Teachers

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Barack Obama congratulates President Donald Trump after he took the oath of office on January 20, 2017. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Updated | Two presidents staked out radically different approaches to gun control on Thursday—with President Donald Trump favoring more guns inside schools and Barack Obama telling student anti-gun activists, "We've got your backs"—and the ex-president trounced his successor, at least in the court of social media.

One day after Florida teens marched on their statehouse to support gun control, Obama tweeted, "Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be. We've been waiting for you. And we've got your backs."

Meanwhile, Trump issued a barrage of tweets that called for arming some teachers with guns.

Related: Obama tweets about hope in the new year, Trump bashes enemies

Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be. We've been waiting for you. And we've got your backs.

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 22, 2018

Within a few hours, Obama's tweet had received more than 537,000 likes, while the four tweets Trump posted earlier that morning got 277,000 combined. Obama, with just over 1 million followers, has roughly twice as many Twitter subscribers as Trump, but the gap in "likes" may also be explained by the shifting sands of the gun control debate.

In his first tweet on Thursday, Trump said he wanted to look at the possibility of giving "concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience," though he said the weapons would go to "only the best" teachers, which he estimated would be 20 percent of them.

I never said “give teachers guns” like was stated on Fake News @CNN & @NBC. What I said was to look at the possibility of giving “concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience - only the best. 20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018

These "highly trained teachers" would be able to "immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions," Trump said in his second tweet. "A 'gun free' school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!" he wrote.

....immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A “gun free” school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018

Trump continued by saying that a school shooting lasts three minutes on average and that it takes police and first responders about five to eight minutes to arrive on scene. "Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive," he said in his third tweet. "GREAT DETERRENT!"

....History shows that a school shooting lasts, on average, 3 minutes. It takes police & first responders approximately 5 to 8 minutes to get to site of crime. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018

Finally, Trump wrote that a potential shooter would not attack a school with a large number of "very weapons talented teachers" and others "who will be instantly shooting." "Must be offensive, defense alone won't work!" he tweeted.

....If a potential “sicko shooter” knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school. Cowards won’t go there...problem solved. Must be offensive, defense alone won’t work!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018

At a meeting with law enforcement and school officials later on Thursday, Trump suggested that trained, armed staff could even get "a little bit of a bonus" for helping make their campuses safer.

The president's idea was rejected by the National Education Association, the largest teachers union.

"Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence," said the association's president, Lily Eskelsen García. "We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that."

The debate over guns in school follows the argument—popular in gun-owning circles—that a "good guy" with a gun can stop a "bad guy" with a gun. But not all good guys—even those who have used their own guns to halt a school shooting—accept this notion.

"Teachers have to teach, and that's what they should be doing," teacher Joel Myrick, who ended what could have been a wider massacre at his Mississippi high school in 1997, told The New York Times on Wednesday. "It doesn't matter what a pistoleroyou are, or think you are. You don't need to be in school in charge of protecting children."

Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association for School Resource Officers which trains and represents school cops, said law enforcement officers responding to a school shooting could mistake a teacher for an assailant. He added that "anyone who hasn't received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant."

Former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton contributed to the debate on Thursday afternoon, tweeting, "Proposals to arm American teachers are the height of lunacy."

This story was updated to include more reporting.