In this January 2016 photo, former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) meets with voters in Greenfield, Iowa. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Rick Santorum is trying to walk back comments he made suggesting teenagers protesting gun violence would be better served by taking CPR classes instead of demanding stricter gun laws.

Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, had made his original comments Sunday while on CNN’s “State of the Union.” On a panel there, he dismissed the March for Our Lives rallies — which had drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters across the country the day before — as a “political movement” that was supported by “Hollywood elites” and “liberal billionaires.”

“Is this really all about politics or is it all about keeping our schools safe?” Santorum told his fellow panelists. “Because if it is about keeping our schools safe, then we have to have a much broader discussion than the discussion that’s going on right now. How about kids, instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that, if there is a violent shooter — ...”

Here he was cut off by the host, who argued that, by peacefully protesting, “the kids” had indeed taken action after a Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The mass shooting — already one of several to take place at a school in 2018 — left 17 students and staff members dead, and galvanized a new generation of activists, including many teenagers from Parkland.

“They took action to ask someone to pass a law,” Santorum retorted. “They didn’t take action to say, ‘How do I, as an individual, deal with this problem? How am I gonna do something about stopping bullying in my community? What am I gonna do to actually help respond to a shooter?’ ”

His comments would soon reverberate across social media and draw the wrath of thousands who accused Santorum of victim blaming. In particular, many members of the medical community bristled at Santorum’s idea that CPR would be in any way effective in saving people who had been shot by an AR-15 rifle.

On Wednesday, Santorum appeared on CNN’s “New Day” and said he had not used the proper term before, though he did not specify which term he had intended to use.

“The fact of the matter is, I did misspeak in using the term 'CPR,'” he told host Chris Cuomo, adding a joke about the job security of CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta. “It obscured the larger point.”

What he had meant to focus on, Santorum told Cuomo, were “the positive things that have come out of these mass shootings.” He named organizations that had focused on mentoring and bullying prevention, describing the groups as “people who have actually focused on what we can do at our individual schools and communities to actually prevent these types of things.”

But his defense of his original remarks would soon land him in another on-air debate, as Cuomo tried to get Santorum to address one of the common denominators in all school shootings: guns. Santorum said he disagreed that they were the main factor and continued to bring up “broader things.”

“Right, but you have to balance that with those being a distraction from the single metric that distinguishes the United States of America from all other developed countries when it comes to gun violence: We have more guns,” Cuomo said. “Access to weapons matters. And it seems like you and others on your side of the fence are going after these kids who are survivors in the interest of political expediency.”

As The Post’s Meagan Flynn and Herman Wong reported, Santorum — who twice ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination — has a deeply conservative message and following:

Over the years, he has warned of the “dangers” of contraception, saying it gives people “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Adamantly against same-sex marriage, he has questioned, “I love my friends, my brother, heck, I even love my mother-in-law — should we call these relationships marriage, too?” And he has said even if his daughter were raped he would still counsel her to “do the right thing” — not have an abortion.

Santorum ... [bills] himself as a supporter of tea party, grass-roots efforts to change laws in Washington. There’s no record of his telling those activists they were “looking to someone else to solve their problem.”

This was not the first time Santorum tried defending his comments. The day after his controversial panel remarks, Santorum tweeted that “we need to learn from those who have experienced violence and found solutions that focus on the shooter.”

The tweet was promptly “ratio-ed,” as they say, as nearly 2,000 comments flooded in, most lambasting Santorum.

“Please just stop talking,” one Twitter user replied.

On Wednesday, Santorum denied that he had attacked the Parkland students.

“If there’s anybody that’s going after folks for political expediency, it certainly isn’t me,” Santorum told Cuomo. “I mean, I certainly respect their right to go out to protest.”

“By telling the kids, ‘Figure out what you could do?’ ” Cuomo shot back. “The CPR comments smacked like, ‘Learn what to do when other people get shot around you. That’s the best we could do to help you not get hurt.’ ”

The interview never recovered from there, with the two men arguing the same points for about a minute more. Santorum repeatedly said he disagreed when Cuomo brought up guns as the “main variable” in school shootings.

The segment ended with Cuomo shaking his head slowly at Santorum.

“Then you’re missing the point, Rick. You just are,” Cuomo said. “The guns matter. Access to the weapon matters.”

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