The National Rifle Association (NRA) on Friday broke its week-long silence in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. elementary school massacre, calling for a national program to put armed police in every school.
In a jam-packed news conference at the Willard Hotel in Washington, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said “properly trained armed good guys” – not tougher gun laws – are the only effective way to protect the country's schoolchildren.
LaPierre expressed “outrage and grief” surrounding last Friday's shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, but spent much of the nearly 30-minute speech attacking a host of players – including President Obama, Congress, the media and the entertainment industry – for what he called a failure to address the gun-violence problem at its core.
The focus on tougher gun laws, he said, is backfiring.
“Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones, they issue press releases bragging about them, they post signs advertising them,” he said, “and in doing so they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”
He did not take questions from reporters.
LaPierre's combative comments are indication that the NRA – the nation's largest gun lobbying group and a powerhouse of influence on Capitol Hill – has no intention of softening its near-blanket opposition to tougher gun laws in the wake of the Newtown massacre, as Obama and a growing number of congressional lawmakers are urging.
LaPierre noted that banks, airports, power plants and presidents are all protected by armed security. So why not schools?
“When it comes to our most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family – our children – we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless,” he said. “And the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it. That must change now.”
LaPierre panned lawmakers for not creating a national data-base of the mentally ill; lambasted Hollywood for producing movies like “American Psycho” and “Natural Born Killers”; hammered prosecutors for going too soft on violent criminals; and blasted the entertainment industry for violent video games like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Mortal Kombat.”
“Isn't fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?” he asked.
Addressing scores of reporters, LaPierre did not spare the media, accusing news companies of being “silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators,” of American gun violence.
“Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away,” he charged.
Congressional Democrats were quick to respond, attacking the NRA as “arrogant,” “reckless” and “careless.”
“It is clear that their real priority is to help gun manufacturers sell more guns—not to protect our children or Americans’ rights,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said in a statement. “The extreme rhetoric of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA is disturbing and dangerous, and will only exacerbate America’s deadly culture of gun violence.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a national proponent of tougher gun laws, said the NRA's leadership is out of touch with its own members. He called the press conference "a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country."
"Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe," Bloomberg said in a statement. "Leadership is about taking responsibility, especially in times of crisis. Today the NRA's lobbyists blamed everyone but themselves for the crisis of gun violence."
The gun-violence debate was propelled to the front pages last Friday, when a lone gunman named Adam Lanza burst into Sandy Hook Elementary, about 65 miles north of New York City, and killed 26 people – 20 first-grade students and six teachers and administrators. Lanza had also shot and killed his mother at their nearby home, bringing the murder toll to 27. He killed himself with a handgun as police moved in on the school.
The tragedy was just the latest in a long string of mass shootings in recent years, but the age of the victims – combined with the holiday season in which they were killed – has caused an international stir that's led a number of policymakers to say the reaction from Congress this time will be different.
Obama this week created a gun-violence task force, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, to examine the issue and propose concrete reforms not later than February – an extremely short timeline (by Washington standards) that indicates the White House already has in mind what it wants to do, but simply wants to get through the holidays and the fiscal-cliff talks first.
Obama said he'll examine mental health policies, violence-in-culture issues and gun reforms, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, like those used by Lanza in Newtown.
The NRA on Friday did not mention Obama’s task force, but announced the launch of its own initiative – the National School Shield program – designed to help schools come up with security plans that are “tested and proven to work,” LaPierre said.
“And by that, I mean armed security,” he added – a comment not included in his prepared remarks.
The Shield program will be funded by the NRA and led by former-Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), who also spoke at Friday’s press briefing.
Outside the hotel, scores of protestors lined both sides of the street holding signs that read “Stop NRA,” “Arms are for Hugging” and “Who Gave the NRA So Much Power?”
Inside, protestors interrupted LaPierre twice, holding up signs before the stage and accusing the group of “killing children” and having “blood on its hands.”
Conservative Republicans are already voicing their opposition to tougher gun laws in the wake of the massacre.
“Let's not build on the tragedy in Connecticut and use that to actually push a political agenda,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) said in an argument Friday with MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on "Morning Joe."
“You look around this town, within 24 hours, folks running on saying we need to change the laws when they don't even know the situation.”
Some Republicans have been silent on the issue of guns since the Sandy Hook shootings, leading to suggestions they were waiting to see how the NRA would respond to the tragedy.
Scarborough, a former GOP congressman from Florida, said Friday that he'd contacted a number of Republicans who declined to appear on his show before the NRA weighed in.
This story was posted at 11:56 a.m. and updated at 1:08 p.m.