The National Rifle Association got what it aimed for Friday: With one news conference, the powerful gun lobby seems to have shifted the national dialogue — even if just momentarily — away from gun-control measures.
In the days leading up to the group’s Washington event, lawmakers offered a flurry of proposals aimed at making guns less dangerous and keeping them out of the wrong hands. Gun Owners for America, an outspoken gun rights organization that is widely seen as more conservative than the NRA, aired concerns that the NRA would make unnecessary concessions. And more than 1,500 people started online petitions targeting the NRA on Change.org, including a plea from one of the group’s own members.
Now, activists on both sides of the issue are weighing the merits of the NRA’s proposal to put armed guards at schools.
“I don’t think the answer to our gun violence problem is more guns,” said Andy Pelosi, the president of Gun Free Kids. “They are going to a place that’s very easy and demonizing everyone else: the media, gun control advocates, video games all those things. What about controlling how people get these weapons in the first place? That subject for them is not even on the table.”
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre addressed none of the gun control proposals that have floated in recent days, such as a ban on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.
Instead, he proposed that the nation’s school be protected by an armed guard and that efforts be made to curb violence in the media, forcing activists off their talking points.
John Woods, who came to Washington this week to lobby members of Congress as part of a coalition organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the NRA was using the tragedy to advance what he said was its broader goal of arming average citizens.
“The subtext here is not only that they think there should be armed guards in schools, but that there should be armed civilians,” said Woods, a Virginia Tech graduate whose girlfriend was murdered in the mass shooting on the school’s campus in 2007. “Video games don’t kill people. People kill people.”
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers were forced to address the question as well.
“My view is that that’s something that should be absolutely considered in the context of the president’s task force,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a former state attorney general
Meanwhile in Washington, Mike Hammond, the legal counsel for the GOA, which has long argued for policies that make firearms more accessible, not less, heaved a sigh of relief.
“I don’t think they are going to be able to slow-walk back from this statement,” he said. “Wayne LaPierre has echoed a lot of our points.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.