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A Message to Trump: Fund Background Checks and Public Health Research on Guns—Don’t Arm Teachers

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Two weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead, President Trump appears to have broken with the NRA and his Republican colleagues. At a televised White House meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, Trump urged Republican and Democratic lawmakers to pass comprehensive gun control measures. At one point he accused Republican Senator Pat Toomey of being “afraid of the NRA.” After the meeting, NRA spokesperson Jennifer Baker said, “While today’s meeting made for great TV, the gun control proposals discussed would make for bad policy that would not keep our children safe. Instead of punishing law-abiding gun owners for the acts of a deranged lunatic, our leaders should pass meaningful reforms that would actually prevent future tragedies.” Joining us in Washington is Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. She wrote an open letter to Trump on Wednesday explaining her opposition to his push to arm teachers. Also in Washington is Kris Brown, co-president at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. And here in New York is Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Two weeks after the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead—14 students and three teachers—President Trump appears to have broken with the NRA and his Republican colleagues. At a televised White House meeting with lawmakers Wednesday, Trump urged Republican and Democratic lawmakers to pass comprehensive gun control.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You have to be very, very powerful on background checks. Don’t be shy. Very strong on mentally ill. You have to be very, very strong on that. And don’t worry about bump stock. We’re getting rid of it, where it will be out. I mean, you don’t have to complicate the bill by adding another two paragraphs. We’re getting rid of it. I’ll do that myself, because I’m able to. Fortunately, we’re able to do that without going through Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: During the meeting, President Trump accused Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey of being afraid of the NRA.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Think of it. You can buy a handgun. You can buy one, but you have to wait 'til you're 21. But you can buy the kind of weapon used in the school shooting at 18. I think it’s something you have to think about.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Would you sign that?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So, I’ll tell you what: I’m going to give it a lot of consideration. And I’m the one bringing it up, and a lot of people don’t even want to bring it up, because they’re afraid to bring it up. But you can’t buy a handgun at 18, 19 or 20. You have to wait 'til you're 21. But you can buy the gun, the weapon used in this horrible shooting, at 18. You are going to decide. The people in this room, pretty much, you’re going to decide. But I would give very serious thought to it. I can say that the NRA is opposed to it. And I’m a fan of the NRA. I mean, there’s no bigger fan. I’m a big fan of the NRA. They want to do it. These are great people. These are great patriots. They love our country. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait 'til I'm 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18. I don’t know. So I was just curious as to what you did in your bill.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You don’t address it.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY: We didn’t address it, Mr. President. Look, I think the—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA, right?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY: No, it’s not an issue. But…”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s a big issue right now, and a lot of people are talking about it. But a lot of people—a lot of people are afraid of that issue, raising the age for that weapon to 21.

AMY GOODMAN: After the White House meeting, that stunned people across the political spectrum, the NRA criticized President Trump. NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said, quote, “While today’s meeting made for great TV, the gun control proposals discussed would make for bad policy that would not keep our children safe. Instead of punishing law-abiding gun owners for the acts of a deranged lunatic, our leaders should pass meaningful reforms that would actually prevent future tragedies,” the National Rifle Association said.

Well, we’re joined now by three guests. In Washington, D.C., Randi Weingarten is with us, president of the American Federation of Teachers. She wrote an open letter to Trump on Wednesday explaining her opposition to his push to arm teachers, which he’s continuing to do. Also in Washington, D.C., Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. And here in New York, Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus.

I want to begin with Kris Brady—I want to begin with Kris Brown, who is one of the co-chairs of the Brady Campaign—the Brady Campaign, of course, named for Jim Brady, who was shot in the head in the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Kris Brown, what was your response to yesterday’s White House meeting?

KRIS BROWN: Well, just after the meeting, my co-president, Avery Gardiner, and I issued a release saying that we agree with President Trump and actually think that a comprehensive approach to the issue of gun violence is long past due, that a comprehensive expansion and support of our background check system is necessary, that we should look at the issue of the assault weapons ban. And, you know, the other issues that he embraced, we are clearly in support of. And actually legislation is pending in Congress to do all of those things. We appreciate that he wants to have a comprehensive solution, that he appears to be bucking the NRA. And we certainly hope Congress is able to deliver a comprehensive package to him to solve this issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, he still did call for the arming of teachers. And I want to go to that meeting, where President Trump stood by the idea of arming school personnel.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: First, we must harden our schools against attack. These include allowing people with a certified training, very talented people, to carry firearms. And some people are going to disagree with that, and I understand that. I fully understand that. And if you do, I want you to speak up today, and we’ll listen.

AMY GOODMAN: Randi Weingarten, your response to this proposal?

RANDI WEINGARTEN: You know, the more you know about this—the more you know about schools and the more you think through this proposal, the more insane it is. And it’s not that we don’t believe that there should be a comprehensive solution. We completely agree with what the folks from Brady just said, and all the issues that they have raised and we have re-raised over the course of the last, I don’t know, 10 years or so. But think about what he’s saying. Even prisons don’t arm correction officers in the interior of a prison.

First, schools need to be safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses. And if we can do that with planes and we can do that with federal courthouses, we need to be able to do that with schools, where our kids are. Secondly, think about what he’s talking about, logistically. What is a kindergarten teacher going to do? Wear her gun on a holster? What about somebody who has been certified? Where is that gun going to be? Is it going to be in a locked thermo closet? Is it going to be in a locked closet? Where is the key going to be? Is a handgun actually going to be able to stop someone who’s deranged with an AR-15? So, you know, there are lots of things we should be doing, like, you know, if communities want, there should be armed security personnel, who are trained, in the perimeter of schools. There should be a bunch of different safety ideas. There should be the mental health issues. But we also have to get guns off the streets and not into schools.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Andy Pelosi into this conversation. Andy Pelosi is the executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. Now, that’s mainly college campuses you’re talking about, but you’ve worked extensively, for years, in Florida and, of course, across the country. President Trump did repeatedly say that gun-free zones are the most dangerous places there are. They attract killers, he said.

ANDY PELOSI: Right. And I really think that that’s a myth, in and of itself. I mean, the mass shootings that we’ve seen over the years, most of those mass shootings have been done by people that either have grievances in the workplace or they have some type of a connection to the school. There’s always a connection, for the most part. And in many cases, those people know that they’re going to die during that incident. So, we—

AMY GOODMAN: They think that they, themselves—

ANDY PELOSI: They will—

AMY GOODMAN: They’re sort of going in and committing suicide at the same time.

ANDY PELOSI: Exactly. And I just—I did want to just tag onto what Randi just mentioned, that we’re in full support of not arming teachers. The last thing we need to do is be adding more guns into the mix. The students in Parkland and across the country, they’re leading on this issue. And it’s very important for us, as advocates, as well as elected officials, to listen to them. They are—they’re angry, but they’re also afraid. And we have to hear that and do something about it. There are other things we could be doing to protect the schools, environmentally, hardening our schools. There are so many things, short of introducing weapons. Teachers should not be carrying weapons. And that’s non-negotiable for us in Florida right now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I’m going to play a clip, and I want people to guess who is speaking.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools, period—with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that is Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA, speaking almost 20 years ago, in 1999, after the Columbine massacre, in which 13 students and one teacher were killed. That’s Wayne LaPierre. Andy Pelosi?

ANDY PELOSI: Yes, it is. And after Columbine—

AMY GOODMAN: Saying, “Don’t arm schools.”


AMY GOODMAN: And talking about the importance of gun-free zones.

ANDY PELOSI: Right. And their solution, again—the gun lobby’s solution to this problem is adding more weapons, whether it be on our streets, with concealed-carry permit holders, or in our schools, having teachers, whose main job—whose only—whose main job is to teach our kids. That’s not the solution. And when you talk to security experts—

AMY GOODMAN: But that is Wayne—that’s Wayne LaPierre—

ANDY PELOSI: It’s amazing.

AMY GOODMAN: —with a completely opposite point of view. He’s saying what you’re saying.

ANDY PELOSI: He was saying what we’re saying, yes, 19 years ago, after Columbine, yes. But he doesn’t feel that way anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, he has seriously—the NRA has gone after, even now, President Trump, in what he has proposed. Kris Brown, the clips, one after the other, were quite astounding. For example, when Steve Scalise, the majority whip in the House, who is a shooting survivor himself—


AMY GOODMAN: We didn’t know he would make it for a little while—on a ball field just a while ago, but has recovered and was talking about conceal carry. Let’s go to Congressman Steve Scalise and President Trump’s response.

REP. STEVE SCALISE: If you look at the concealed-carry population, these are people, by and large, who are helping us stop crimes. These are people who are well trained, who actually go out there and help prevent crimes. So I would hope that that’s not immediately dismissed, because there is a lot of talk of just putting that on the side and just moving things—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But, Steve, I do think this—you know I’m your biggest fan in the whole world, right?


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think that maybe that bill will someday pass, but it should pass as a separate. If you’re going to put concealed carry between states into this bill, we’re talking about a whole new ballgame. And, you know, I’m with you, but let it be a separate bill. You’ll never get this passed.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the Republicans were gobsmacked in the room. Kris Brown of the Brady Campaign, were you? This is President Trump admonishing a shooting survivor who wants conceal carry, who—one of the most powerful forces in the House.

KRIS BROWN: We were pretty, pretty surprised. But then again, President Trump likes to be, you know, his own man, so he says. And so, you know, ultimately, the policy directives that he embraced in that meeting yesterday are foursquare in line with what we know, at Brady, is necessary to save lives. The concealed-carry—so-called concealed-carry reciprocity bill that Representative Scalise was referencing, we call the “arm anyone bill.” It would basically allow anyone to obtain a concealed-carry license, anywhere, at any time. And law enforcement opposes it. It effectively eviscerates permitting standards and other requirements that states have put together to determine who can carry a concealed permit when. It tromps on states’ rights. And we think it’s very sensible that the president is saying you should not include a bill like that in bills like expanding background checks and closing gaps in the background check system, that actually are about saving lives. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the background checks. Explain what is being asked for.


AMY GOODMAN: Explain, when someone says “background check,” how they might be eviscerating background checks, and what a meaningful background check system would look like.

KRIS BROWN: Happy to do that. Thank you so much. And I have to say, yesterday was the anniversary of the Brady background check system, the 24-year anniversary of it. That law was enacted, actually, in 1994. And what is says is, if you’re a federally licensed firearms dealer, you’re required to conduct a background check before someone purchases a gun. The issue is that in the time since that law was enacted, there’s this thing called the internet, and there are gun shows, where private sellers, who are not subject to the law, are able to sell guns. As a result, one in five guns sold today is sold without a background check.

We also have a system that allows a background check to proceed—the sale to proceed if the background check has not come back within 72 hours. That’s called the Charleston loophole, because that’s how the shooter in Charleston was able to secure a gun. The background check had not yet come back on him after three days, and the seller sold it anyway. And he went on to kill people at AME Baptist Church. We want those gaps closed. It will save lives. The background check system today has stopped the sale or purchase of 3 million guns to individuals we all deem dangerous.

The third thing we want is an investment in the system, so that federal and state agencies charged with inputting names into the system have appropriate funding to do that. We saw the problem with lack of that with the Sutherland Springs shooting, where the shooter had a charge against him and a conviction, that should have been put into the background check system by the Air Force. It just wasn’t put in.

AMY GOODMAN: He had attacked his wife and baby, or partner and baby.

KRIS BROWN: That’s right. He had been dishonorably discharged from the military. His record, therefore, should have been put into the system by the Air Force within 24 hours. They did admit that. We have a problem. Many state and federal agencies are not appropriately inputting the names into the system. That needs to change.

So, what Donald Trump appears to be embracing is an expansive reform of the background check system. There are bills pending in Congress to cover all of these things, that will save lives. We want that comprehensive package presented to him for signature.

AMY GOODMAN: And when President Trump spoke to Senator Cornyn, who was right next to him, who is sponsor of the Fix NICS bill—can you explain what this is?


AMY GOODMAN: Why you feel it doesn’t go far enough? Although, by the end of the meeting, Trump was turning to him and saying, “You’re going to add all this other stuff, right?”

KRIS BROWN: Yes, he was. So, the Fix NICS bill is an important first step. So, what it would fix is that last issue I just referenced. It provides more money to state and federal agencies to ensure all names we already agree and that are required to be put into the system are put into the system. What it doesn’t do is actually address the gaps in the system that allow one in five guns sold today to be sold without a background check, so it doesn’t close the private sale loophole. And it doesn’t close the Charleston loophole that allows a gun purchase to proceed even without a background check. So we want universal background checks, and we want appropriate funding to state and federal agencies. And there are three bills pending that would do all of those things.

AMY GOODMAN: And those bills are?

KRIS BROWN: There is the Fix NICS bill. There’s a bill—I don’t have the number, but it’s in the House and the Senate—to actually close the Charleston loophole. And there’s another bill, introduced also by Senator Murphy, that would close the loophole, the one-in-five loophole, and ensure that all background checks apply to all gun sales, whether private or through federally licensed firearm dealers.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Senator Chris Murphy, who was—

KRIS BROWN: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: —elected right after Sandy Hook—

KRIS BROWN: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: —right before Sandy Hook, but before he took office.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this conversation. Kris Brown is head of the Brady Campaign. Andy Pelosi is with the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. And Randi Weingarten is head of the AFT, the American Federation of Teachers. After that conversation, we’re going to Copenhagen. We’re going to talk about what’s happening in the Arctic. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “To the Teeth” by Ani DiFranco, here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We’re going to go back to the White House meeting yesterday that stunned people across the political spectrum, but may well be attributed to what took place, well, very far away, in Parkland, Florida, where the kids were returning to school. That’s right, where the children who have survived the Parkland massacre, the Valentine’s Day massacre, where Nikolas Cruz opened fire with an AR-15 and killed 17 people—14 students and three teachers. They went back. They’re going back for a few hours each day, not allowed to have backpacks. They don’t want them to have books. They have over a hundred dogs to help them feel good in the school, many, many, many counselors. And interestingly, in the morning, they didn’t go to their homeroom, they went to the room they were in or the group of people they were with. The freshman building, where the shooting happened, was sealed off. They went to their fourth period class, so that they would be with the students they were with when the massacre took place, to draw comfort, to be back together again.

This is the pressure on the Florida Legislature. This is the pressure on the White House right now. This is the pressure on Congress. These young people in mourning are also taking aim, and they haven’t stopped since right after the massacre, demanding that the adults take action, that they pass legislation. They want these assault weapons out of the hands of those who could kill them.

So, we’re going back to this White House meeting on guns. And this is President Trump speaking about how law enforcement should respond to reports about potentially dangerous individuals.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Take the firearms first, and then go to court, because that’s another system, because a lot of times, by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court to get the due process procedures. I like taking the guns early. Like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida, he had a lot of firearms. They saw everything. To go to court would have taken a long time. So you could do exactly what you’re saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.

AMY GOODMAN: “Take the guns first, go through due process second.” Kris Brown, head of the Brady Campaign, can you respond?

KRIS BROWN: Well, I have to say, among the various things that he said, I found that the most surprising. You know, we have long supported the enactment of what are called “extreme risk protection laws.” Five states now have them. Embedded in everything single one of those is a due process standard. And it basically allows family members and law enforcement, who have an at-risk individual or see an at-risk individual, someone at risk to themselves or others, to have an expedited process and review and hearing, before an order is issued. We think that’s appropriate. Despite that fact, actually, and the fact that due process is incorporated in every state that has now enacted these laws, the NRA has fought us tooth and nail, every step of the way, saying that somehow due process is not considered. So it was with some shock that I watched Donald Trump basically say that a hearing is actually not even necessary, and that if law enforcement see guns with someone who’s at risk, they should just seize them at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: And then I wanted to turn to Democratic Congressmember Stephanie Murphy in yesterday’s meeting.

REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY: I have a bipartisan bill to remove the so-called Dickey Amendment, which has prevented, over the last couple of decades, the CDC and other federal agencies from researching gun violence. And I think that your secretary of HHS has said he thinks we should be able to research gun violence. It’s a key piece. Having facts and scientific data is a key piece in helping us address this national public health issue. And so, I would hope that, you know, we, as lawmakers, can have opinions about policies, but we should all have good sets of facts. And it’s an easy fix. We just have to strike one sentence in the existing law to enable us to conduct the research that’s much needed.

AMY GOODMAN: Kris Brown, can you explain what this CDC reference is?

KRIS BROWN: Yes. Over a decade ago, a member of Congress included in an appropriations funding bill a rider, language that said that the CDC could not spend any funds actually studying gun violence prevention. Over the course of many years, that rider has been interpreted to preclude the CDC from actually spending dedicated funds associated with gun violence research. So the bill that Representative Murphy, who was elected and represents the area where the Pulse shooting occurred, and defeated a 10-term incumbent, John Mica, has is to actually provide funding and authorize funding for CDC research. We absolutely agree that is critical. We have a scourge, an epidemic, of gun violence in this country, that claims over 96 lives a day and injures hundreds more. It is a travesty that we don’t actually spend significant funds understanding how best to address that issue and ensuring that researchers are appropriately funded to find the solutions to this. We have many, but research is essential. And we strongly support that bill.

AMY GOODMAN: And now I want to turn to Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was sitting right next to President Trump. At the beginning of this meeting, when she was with—on one side of President Trump, and Senator Cornyn, his—what was expected to be his ally, was on the other, she wouldn’t even look at Trump, as many Democrats didn’t. By the end, it was the Democrats who were smiling, in support of. Dianne Feinstein did appear surprised, or I should say that President Trump appeared surprised that AR-15 machine guns could be purchased in stores.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: What do we do about weapons of war easily accessible on our streets?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What you’re going to have to do is discuss it with everybody. And any solution—no, it’s a very complex solution. You do. You have—you have weapons on the street. That’s what we’re talking about with black market. These are black market weapons. And, you know, the problem, Dianne, is that these aren’t where you walk into a store and buy. These are where somebody hands you a gun, and you hand them some money.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Oh, no, you go into a store, and you can buy an AR-15.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: You can buy a TEC-9. I mean, you can buy all these weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Senator Feinstein. Andy Pelosi, your response? And talk about what exactly you’re calling for right now.

ANDY PELOSI: Well, thank you. I think that, you know, the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004. There are seven states that have their own bans. After the Pulse shooting in Florida in June 1990—I’m sorry, June 2016, the Florida coalition that we’re a part of called for two things: a ban on assault weapons in Florida and universal background checks, along the lines that Kris was talking about before, on the state level. After the Parkland shooting, we’ve renewed our call. And that call is really being led by the students. They want a state ban on assault weapons. They want, actually, a federal ban on assault weapons. And the public is behind this. You know, large numbers of people are in support of this.

And this is—these are two provisions that we continue to push before the Florida Legislature. The Legislature will be done very soon. Their proposals right now are much more—are watered down, quite frankly. And they include arming teachers. And what we really need in Florida are solutions that are going to reduce gun violence, and not just small proposals, raising the age to 21, which is good, but it still includes the selling of assault rifles in Florida.

AMY GOODMAN: Randi Weingarten, the Florida House Appropriations Committee, in Tallahassee, advanced a bill that would require sheriff’s departments to offer teachers training in carrying guns in the classroom. The program would spend $67 million to establish teachers and school staff with concealed weapons. Your response to this?

RANDI WEINGARTEN: Again, as I said before, it’s insane. And frankly, think about this, Amy, they have done this at the same time as they advanced a bill to strip teachers of their voice in schools, so that when we talk about what works and doesn’t work in schools, they don’t want to hear that, but they want to arm teachers with weaponry. We want to be armed with social workers. We want to be armed with lower class size. We want to be armed with the things that we need to do to help kids.

And so, you know, I just want to chime in with your other two guests, because there are commonsense solutions here. We have to have the wraparound services. We need to actually think through new safety measures. One of the students said that the active shooter training actually really helped. And you watched how those teachers really helped shield kids. But at the end of the day, if we don’t get assault weapons out of our streets and our schools, we’re going to see more of this.

Last thing I would say is not just the Dickey Amendment, but just like auto manufacturers are not immunized from liability, just like tobacco manufacturers were not immunized from liability, why is it that the gun industry has a complete pass for anything and everything it does? Everybody has to take more responsibility here, as does the gun industry. And I think we should actually look at those immunity statutes and pull them away, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end with the words of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma González, who gave a dramatic speech calling for gun control on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, the first Saturday after the Valentine’s Day massacre.

EMMA GONZÁLEZ: If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened, and maintains telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association. … It doesn’t matter, because I already know: $30 million! And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one-and-one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump? … To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Emma González. And Splinter just came out with a piece talking about what Emma González mentioned at the beginning of her speech, when she warned, “I know that this looks a bit long”—the paper she was holding for her speech—”but these are my AP gov notes.” And she was talking about the fact—and referred to and has repeatedly thanked her government teacher, her AP government teacher, Mr. Foster.

“On the day of the shooting, Foster taught the AP Gov students about special interest groups, like the NAACP, American Medical Association, and the National Rifle Association. His lesson plan that day included a discussion about the Columbine and Sandy Hook school shootings, with emphasis on how every politician comes out afterward a tragedy to say the right thing about changing gun regulation. The students learned how the NRA goes to work as soon [as] news reporters and the public move on to the next story.” And Foster said, “That’s not the NRA’s fault, that’s our fault. We lose attention, and that’s why interest groups run the country. If it’s not the NRA, then it’s another group.” And this is the lesson that they had right before the massacre took place at their school.

I want to thank all our guests, Kris Brown of the Brady Campaign, Andy Pelosi of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus.

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