May 5 (UPI) -- DALLAS, Texas -- President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence doubled down Friday on their desire to "harden" schools by allowing teachers to carry firearms and told a cheering crowd of 8,000 at the National Rifle Association's annual convention they have "two friends in the White House."
"We strongly believe in allowing highly trained teachers to carry concealed weapons," Trump said at the NRA event, held a few months after a former student shot and killed 17 people and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The shooting sparked the March for Our Lives, a student-led, nationwide protest calling for more stringent gun control legislation.
"We mourn with those who mourn," Pence said. "We resolve to confront this menace with all our strength and we are doing just that," he continued, referring to the mass shootings that plagued the nation over the past 15 months.
But the possibility that reform from lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere could include allowing faculty members to carry concealed weapons at school remains a major point of contention for NRA opponents.
Opponents of Trump's suggestion to arm teachers were among the 100 students, teachers and parents gathered outside of Dallas City Hall to protest the presence of NRA leaders and members.
"The gun lobby keeps saying 'we should meet in the middle', well arming me is not meeting in the middle. It's the opposite of meeting in the middle," said Mike Alves, a high school STEM teacher from Plano, Texas. Alves, a teacher of 25 years, said he will quit if teachers are made to carry weapons in the classroom.
Ana Coca, a bilingual teacher in the Dallas Independent School District who taught first and fourth grade and organizes the curriculum and instruction for the program, believes the cost to train and arm teachers can't be justified while funds for public schools in Texas are cut and enrollment continues to increase.
Coca also believes arming teachers will damage the relationship between students and teachers.
"We're trying to gain the respect of the students, we're trying to build relationships. Can you imagine students finding out, god forbid, that the teacher's armed?" she asked, her voice breaking. "We're struggling with building relationships, it's going to hurt us more than help."
After clearing a House of Representatives vote in March, the Stop School Violence Act remains up for consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill was introduced in January by Rep. Jon Rutherford, R-Fla., and includes training for teachers and students to prevent school violence, the development of a threat assessment team and specialized training for school officials in response to mental health crises, among other measures.