WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he believes he has influence to rally Republicans around stronger federal background check laws as Congress and the White House work on a response to last weekend's mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.
At the same time, Trump said he had assured the National Rifle Association that its gun-rights views would be "fully represented and respected."
He said he was hopeful the NRA would not be an obstacle to strengthening the nation's gun laws.
Trump has promised to lead on tougher gun control measures before, including after the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting, but little has come of it.
His comments in the wake of the twin massacres marked his most optimistic and supportive words in favor of more stringent gun laws, though he left the details vague and it remained to be seen how much political capital Trump would throw behind marshaling Republicans on the issue.
He said Friday he now is looking for "very meaningful background checks" but is not considering a resurrection of an assault weapons ban. He said he also believes lawmakers will support "red flag" laws that allow guns to be removed from those who may be a danger to themselves and others.
"I see a better feeling right now toward getting something meaningful done," Trump told reporters when asked why the political environment was different now.
"I have a greater influence now over the Senate and the House," he said at the White House.
Democrats and others have been skeptical of Trump's commitment to genuine gun control, judging from past experience. But he said he was behind it.
"The Republicans are going to be great and lead the charge along with the Democrats," he declared, saying he'd spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whom he proclaimed to be "totally onboard."
But McConnell, thus far, has only committed to a discussion of the issue.
Republicans have long opposed expanding background checks — a bill passed by the Democratic-led House is stalled in McConnelFs Senate — but they face new pressure after the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 people dead.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted in response Friday that McConnell must bring up the House-passed legislation, which Trump had previously threatened to veto. "To get anything meaningful done to address gun violence, we need his commitment to hold a Senate vote on the House-passed background checks legislation," Schumer said.
As for the NRA, which has contributed millions to help Trump and other Republicans, the gun lobby's chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, said this week that some federal gun control proposals "would make millions of law-abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones."
But Trump said he'd spoken with LaPierre this week and "I think in the end, Wayne and the NRA will either be there or either be a little more neutral."
"Frankly, I really think they're going to get there also," he added.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader McConnell said he now wants background checks and other action, setting up a potentially pivotal moment when lawmakers return in the fall.
The Republican leader won't be calling senators back to work early, as some are demanding. But he told a Kentucky radio station that Trump called him Thursday morning and they talked about several ideas. The president, he said, is "anxious to get an outcome and so am I."
"What we can't do is fail to pass something," McConnell said.
Traveling with Trump to New York, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said he intended to discuss the issue with the president over the weekend. He said he's in favor of a state-run list system that would prohibit certain people from buying guns.
"I just think the space to do nothing is gone," he said. "And that's a good thing."
McConnell said he and Trump discussed background checks and "red flag" laws. "Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass," McConnell told Louisville's WHAS-AM.
HUNTINGTON — The cost of school supplies is rising, and with an increase in technology in the classroom, more students are required to submit assignments from home, according to the Huntington Backpack Index, an annual barometer for household spending on school supplies and related fees in the nation.
According to the index, released by Huntington Bank, the average national cost of school supplies, extracurricular fees and technology for the 2019 school year is $1,017 for elementary, $1,277 for middle and $1,668 for high school students. This includes the cost of a basic laptop and home internet access.
To combat this, parents in Cabell County who may not be able to afford school supplies are offered support thanks to an excess levy, said Jedd Flowers, director of communications for Cabell County Schools.
Through the excess levy, as well as community drives and donations, students in Cabell County are not required to purchase their own school supplies, including backpacks. Cabell County has 13,000 students spread across 26 schools.
"Several years back, a lot of families were coming to us and telling us, 'Hey, we're making decisions between buying school supplies and feeding our families,'" Flowers said. "And we thought that wasn't a decision they should have to make, especially since the voters here support an excess levy that allows us some extra funds to provide supplies to the schools."
Flowers said many community organizations have supply drives for local schools in the county. Most recently, Todd Judy Ford hosted a supply drive to benefit local teachers, and The Salvation Army teamed up with local Walmart stores to "Stuff the Bus," a donation drive that took place at multiple Walmarts in the area, including in Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln and Mason counties.
"There are thousands of kids heading back to school this year, and over half of them will need assistance to start the school year off right," said Heather Bourne, youth evangelism and outreach director from The Salvation Army, in a news release. "By donating school supplies for a child in need, you're easing the burden parents experience at the start of the school year and helping set the right tone for these kids as they head back to school. It's the boost of confidence they need to have a successful year."
Many local churches also provide free school supplies and support to students in the area. The Community of Grace United Methodist Church in Huntington hosted a Back to School Bash recently, providing free haircuts, eye exams, food and 300 backpacks filled with school supplies to students in attendance. Backpacks were purchased by the church, and they were filled by donations from community members.
Pastor Donna S. Hinkle said it is important to gather as a community and assist the community.
"By giving out the backpacks and the school supplies and doing haircuts and eye exams, we're hoping that it gets kids excited about what lies ahead for them in the new school year," Hinkle said. "(We hope) they start the school year feeling confident, have everything they need and look as good as they can and see as good as they can. And they're ready to begin the new year on a clean slate."
The Community of Grace Church has organized the Back to School Bash for the past six years, and Hinkle said they are already booked for next year.
"It's a great church with a lot of heart for the community," she said.
The Children's Home Society of West Virginia Hunting-ton/Ona site is also collecting supplies to benefit students in Cabell County. Supplies accepted include crayons, pencils, notecards, pens, folders, binders, hand sanitizers and college-ruled loose paper and notebooks. Backpacks are also accepted. Those interested in donating may drop off items at 203 6th Ave. in Huntington or call the Children's Home Society office at 681-378-2530.
Cabell County schools also provide free lunches to their students during the school year, with support from the excess levy as well as the Community Eligibility Provision under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Because we are in an area that's food insecure, we know that a great deal of nutrition comes from our school food service program," Flowers said. "That's very, very important. We feed kids all summer, and then during the school year we do universal free meals.
"The board wanted us to move that way a few years ago because we could see our poverty rate had increased and so many kids were struggling. And under the Community Eligibility Provision, we were able to qualify the kids based on assistance applications, like for SNAP. We were able to qualify the entire school district without kids filling out individual forms, and that's been really fantastic."
With an increase in technology in schools, Cabell County has partnered with Apple to update computer labs, by turning them into mobile laptop labs. They also provide tablets to students to use in the classroom. Flowers said they developed a comprehensive Student Technology Empowerment Plan (STEP) to look at the technology comprehensively.
Other counties in the area may be unable to provide free school supplies to students. In nearby Kanawha County, volunteers organized an "Adopt a Teacher" program in which community members "adopt" a teacher and provide supplies for their classrooms. Information on how to help is found on the Adopt a Teacher Facebook page.
Flowers said Cabell County is blessed to have the excess levy and wishes other counties could, too.
"We eliminated the teachers making lists in Cabell because we just said, 'Come to school with a good attitude. You don't need anything else, just a good attitude and be ready to learn,'" Flowers said. "But we've stayed committed to it, and I'm very proud of the district for that. I think when you help those who are in need, you're doing the kind of work that you need to do."
Any brand school supplies are accepted in Cabell County through drives and donations, Flowers said. Parents may purchase their own school supplies if they want to do so. It is not a requirement that students come to school without anything, but it is an option for those in need. Flowers said some parents buy extra supplies to give to teachers so they can have them on hand.
"Learning isn't about the supplies. Learning is about what takes place in that classroom," he said. "We'll make sure that they have what they need. It doesn't prohibit them from bringing anything. They can bring anything they want. That's fine. Some parents will send some to share with the class. And we've tried to make adjustments to instruction so that we don't have to be so demanding about what (is specifically needed)."
Flowers said he thanks the community for their continued support through the years, as their support has helped make school supplies available to students in Cabell County.
"I want to express our appreciation to the community for continually showing the support of students," he said. "We've had times when we were out of school that they provide lunches; they host our sites in the summer. This is a community that cares about its kids, and we eternally thank them for that."
START DATES FOR AREA SCHOOLS
• Boyd County, Kentucky, begins school Aug. 14.
• Cabell County begins school Aug. 14.
• Huntington St. Joseph begins school Aug. 15.
• Our Lady of Fatima begins school Aug. 15
• Grace Christian begins school Aug. 19
• Kanawha County begins school Aug. 12.
• Putnam County begins school Aug. 22.
• Wayne County begins school Aug. 22.
• Lincoln County begins school Aug. 14.
• Mason County begins school Aug. 21.
• Fairland Schools begin Aug. 14.
• Chesapeake Schools begin Aug. 14.
• Dawson-Bryant Schools begin Aug. 15.
• South Point Schools begin Aug. 14.
• Ironton Schools begin Aug. 14.
• Symmes Valley Schools begin Aug. 14.
• Rock Hill Schools begin Aug. 19.
CHARLESTON — About one year ago, Yeager Airport officials contacted Marshall University to float the idea of building an MU-run flight school on an unused tract of airport land.
With a national shortage of commercial pilots only getting more critical while enrollment space in existing flight schools remains scarce, the chance to place graduates in high-paying jobs and help head off a transportation crisis while boosting the local economy resonated with Marshall President Jerome Gilbert.
"I'm extremely grateful Yeager Airport reached out to us a little more than a year ago," Gilbert said Friday, a few minutes before visiting the site where a 10,000-square-foot classroom building will begin to take shape next spring and be ready for its first students by August 2021.
Since Yeager and Marshall agreed to cooperate in developing the flight school, MU has established partnerships with Tri-State Airport and Mountwest Community and Technical College to build an aircraft maintenance training center at the Huntington airport. Students taking part in that two-year program will receive associate degrees.
Also, in collaboration with Southern Utah University, the nation's largest four-year helicopter flight training center, MU students seeking bachelor's degrees in rotary wing flight would receive hands-on training at the flight school at Yeager and attend academic classes at Marshall's South Charleston campus.
Yeager Airport recently completed construction of a secure access road and utility corridor to the site of the planned MU flight school, located at the end of a taxiway and general aviation runway abandoned several years ago.
Academic classes for the MU fixed wing flight school at Yeager, and other aviation specialties, will be housed in existing classroom buildings at Marshall's South Charleston campus. Construction is expected to begin at the South Charleston campus in six to nine months on a dormitory with food service to accommodate about 50 students, according to Gilbert.
In addition to holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the site of the planned flight school, an Aerospace Industry Partnership Compact was signed by Gilbert and other
collaborators in developing the flight school at Yeager. The pact calls on all who sign it to support the MU-Yeager aviation initiative to the best of their abilities, without committing to specific sums, for the next two years, when the document is up for review and renewal.
Those signing in addition to the Marshall president were state Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch, state Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine and Yeager Airport Director Terry Sayre.
"I'm excited to add a new dimension to our academic program that is already attracting interest from prospective students," Gilbert said after signing the pact. The MU president said he looked forward to developing "a larger presence in the Charleston area and growing good jobs across West Virginia."
"This has been a great collaboration," said Gaunch. "It shows we can get so much done when we put our differences aside and work together. Everyone here is on the same page and has the same goals in mind. That gets things done."
Gaunch said the Yeager-Mar-shall partnership will produce well-trained people to grow "a fledgling but thriving aerospace industry" in West Virginia, and help diversify the state's economy in the process.
"Bringing 200-300 students a year from across the country to Yeager Airport and South Charleston will be an economic boost for the area," said Sayre.
"It's truly an innovative project and a huge deal for Charleston and Kanawha County," said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, who added, "As of today, we are part of Herd Nation."
"I'm extremely grateful Yeager Airport reached out to us a little more than a year ago."
HUNTINGTON — A Huntington murder trial will be delayed as a woman accused of killing her husband considers whether to take a plea deal and her attorney waits for more evidence to be turned over.
Jessica Gordon, 31, of Huntington, was charged with muringder in 2017 in the Oct. 22 shoot death of her husband, Christopher Gordon, 31, at the couple's home on Cavalier Drive.
According to police, Gordon said her husband had held her down on a bed, but gave conflicting information that he had strangled her. Gordon told police she retrieved a gun from a gun safe on the other side of the bed and fired one shot, which struck her husband in his left temple.
During her 2017 arraignment, Gordon told The Herald-Dispatch, "It's not what it seems."
Gordon was scheduled to go to trial Sept. 10 in Cabell Circuit Judge Christopher Chiles' courtroom, but defense attorney Ray Nolan said Thursday he is still waiting for evidence to be exchanged in the case, including additional statements and a forensics report, which might potentially delay the case if he needs to hire an expert witness.
Cabell Prosecutor Sean "Corky" Hammers said he expects to turn over more information to Nolan by next week.
Nolan said Gordon had been offered a plea deal to second-degree murder, which calls for a 10-to 40-year sentence, but she was turning down the offer until they were able to review the evidence that has not been exchanged.
Chiles set a return date for Sept. 6.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.