Pentagon Dodges on Gun Control Debate after Florida School Shootings

Attendees comfort each other before a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Attendees comfort each other before a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Pentagon sought Thursday to keep Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the military out of the roiling debate on gun control in the wake of the Feb. 14 Florida high school shootings.

"Our mission is to defend this nation and all our citizens. I think you have to remember the tragic events in Florida and gun control are issues for political leaders. It's really their responsibility to move forward" on the question of stricter gun controls, said Dana White, the Pentagon's chief spokesperson.

When asked if Mattis thought there should be a ban on the AR-15 rifle, the weapon used in the Florida shootings, White said "I have not asked him that question."

White also sidestepped questions on proposals mentioned by President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association to have teachers who served in the military, or retired service members, carry concealed weapons to protect schools.

"Currently we have not been given any task with respect to that," White said, but "we are absolutely open to those conversations."

In a Tweet Thursday, Trump said "I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 {for gun sales} and end sale of Bump Stocks! Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue -- I hope!"

The Army has already played a role following the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., by honoring three Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets who were among the 17 students and faculty allegedly killed by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who reportedly was also a former JROTC member.

The three cadets -- Peter Yang, 15, and Alaina Petty and Martin Duque Anguiano, both 14 -- were posthumously awarded the Medal of Heroism, the highest award given to Army JROTC cadets.

Peter Yang, who police said held a door open to allow other students to escape before being fatally wounded, had dreamed of going to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and last week West Point posthumously admitted him to the class of 2025.

"It was an appropriate way for USMA to honor this brave young man," West Point officials said in a statement. "West Point has given posthumous offers of admissions in very rare instances for those candidates or potential candidates whose actions exemplified the tenets of duty, honor and country."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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