A week after the Connecticut school massacre, the National Rifle Association called on Congress to provide funding for armed police in all of the nation’s schools.
At a Washington news conference Friday, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre blamed violent video games, movies and gun-free zones around schools for endangering children and said more guns, not fewer, are the solution.
“I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation,” he said. “And to do it now to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January.”
LaPierre also announced that his group had tapped former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., to help establish a model school-shield program to recruit local volunteers, including retired military, police and parents, to protect students.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said. “Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away or from a minute away?”
The NRA’s proposals drew swift criticism from gun-control advocates, including those on Capitol Hill. “Walking out of another funeral and was handed the NRA transcript,” Rep. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., tweeted on Friday. “The most revolting, tone-deaf statement I’ve ever seen.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is behind the Mayors Against Illegal Guns effort, called the NRA’s news conference “a shameful evasion” of the crisis.
“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. “Today the NRA’s lobbyists blamed everyone but themselves for the crisis of gun violence.”
Officials of the powerful gun rights lobby did not express support for gun control proposals such as reinstating the assault weapons ban or limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines. Instead, LaPierre criticized politicians’ efforts to keep firearms away from schools.
“Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones, they issue press releases bragging about them, they post signs advertising them, and in doing so, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk,” LaPierre said.
LaPierre also sought to blame the media for misrepresenting the gun industry as well as the entertainment and video game industries for producing violent content. He showed a brief excerpt from one game called “Kindergarten Killers.”
LaPierre’s remarks were interrupted twice by protesters, one of whom held up a sign reading, “NRA Killing Our Kids.” LaPierre and other NRA officials did not take questions from reporters but said they would be available next week.
A Week in the Making
Until the news conference Friday, the NRA had been quiet, including a period immediately after the Connecticut massacre when it did not respond to reporters’ queries and took down its social media presence.
Before LaPierre spoke, gun control groups issued pleas to NRA members to support tougher firearms laws.
“To the 74 percent of NRA members who support requiring a criminal background check of anyone purchasing a gun . . . To the 87 percent of NRA members who believe that the Second Amendment can coexist with efforts to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals . . . To all NRA members who believe like we do, that we are better than this, we send this message . . . Join us. Join us in making sure the gun violence ends now,” Daniel Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement. “We are all Americans and we all agree we are better than this.”
The NRA’s proposals won praise from Gun Owners of America, an outspoken gun rights organization that is widely seen as more conservative than the NRA and has long argued for policies that make firearms more accessible.
Richard Feldman, who as the NRA regional political director helped negotiate child safety locks with the Clinton administration, recently founded a group called the Independent Firearm Owners Association in an effort to provide a moderate alternative to the NRA. He also supports the notion of armed guards in schools.
“The only way to confront an evil person with a gun is with a good person with a gun,” he said. “If the same proposal had come from the National School Boards Association, then you would have eliminated the politics out of the issue.”
Criticism From Democrats
Although many congressional Democrats were critical of the NRA’s statement Friday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a former state attorney general, said she would consider the idea of having armed police officers in every school.
“My view is that that’s something that should be absolutely considered in the context of the president’s task force,” Ayotte said.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday created an administration task force, led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., charged with making recommendations on reducing gun violence by January. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday that the GOP would wait to respond to calls for legislative action on gun control until after receiving the task force’s proposals.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., another former state attorney general, called the NRA’s statement Friday “sadly and shamefully inadequate [in] calling for more guns and rejecting real action against gun violence.” Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, appeared to agree.
“The answer to increased gun violence is common-sense gun safety measures, not more guns in schools,” Harkin said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said that “the NRA’s blanket call to arm our schools is really nothing more than a distraction” and “a delay tactic.” She said a more-pressing concern is legislation she is drafting to reinstate the assault weapons ban.
“If school districts want to hire armed security guards, I support that,” Feinstein said. “It’s a decision each school district should make, and many school districts already have armed guards. ... In fact, there were two armed law enforcement officers who twice engaged the shooters at Columbine. That didn’t prevent 15 from being killed and 23 wounded.”
“Should we have a conversation about school security? Yes. Should we have a conversation about mental illness and the culture of violence? Yes. But we can’t ignore the common denominator in all of these deadly massacres: access, easy access, to killing machines,” Feinstein said.
Even Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a staunch gun rights supporter who previously served as an elementary school music teacher and a school board member, questioned the NRA’s proposal.
“I’m a school teacher. I used to do that,” Tester said. “I’m not sure that induces a good quality-of-learning environment.”
John Gramlich and Janie Lorber contributed to this report.