In his first public remarks since the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut school last Friday, Wayne LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of National Rifle Association, said at a press conference on Friday, December 21st that all schools should have armed police officers in an effort to curb violent outbreaks akin to the Connecticut shooting.
LaPierre, head of the nation’s largest gun rights group said at the Friday morning news conference at the Willard Hotel in Washington that, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He also called on Congress to act immediately “to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school in this nation.”
Confronting those he believes have politicized the gun control issue including elected officials and the media, LaPierre exclaimed that, “Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones, they issue press releases bragging about them … in doing so they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”
Opining on the massacre at the Newtown elementary school, LaPierre said that lives might have been spared had armed officers on site. “Will you at least admit it is possible that 26 little kids — that 26 innocent lives might have been spared that day?” he asked. LaPierre announced that the NRA will develop a “model national schools shield emergency response program” that will be led by former Arkansas congressman Asa Hutchinson, who served as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration under President George W. Bush. “From armed security to building design and access control, to information technology, to student and teacher training, this multifaceted program will be developed by the very best experts in the field,” he said of the effort.
LaPierre’s remarks came after a week of near-silence from the NRA following the Connecticut school massacre where 20-year old Adam Lanza, gunned down 20 children and six adults with a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle at the Sandy Hook Elementary School elementary school. Subsequently, the NRA’s social media accounts went dark, and it issued just one public statement saying its members were “shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders.”
LaPierre’s statements have ignited a national debate over two starkly different views about curbing gun violence. On one side stand those like the NRA head, who believe that arming more citizens is the answer while on the other hand, gun-control advocates are rallying for more stringent restrictions on firearms.
In the days following the Connecticut school shooting, President Obama launched an interagency task force led by Vice President Biden and has called for Congress to implement immediate action to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. On Sunday, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that she will soon introduce a federal ban on assault weapons.
On Friday morning, President Obama also released an internet video exhorting the public to assist in the push for tougher gun regulations. “I’m asking for your help … to make sure the United States of America is a safer, stronger place for our children to learn and to grow,” Obama said. Petitions on the White House Web site aimed at pressing the administration to take action on gun control have attracted hundreds of thousands of signatures.
Countering this perspective, LaPierre foisted criticism on those he said “have tried to exploit the tragedy for political gain.” The NRA, he said, “remained respectably silent” in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. He also offered a broader cultural observation, decrying violent video games and films. “There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like ‘Bullet Storm,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Mortal Combat,’ and ‘Splatterhouse,’ ” LaPierre said.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, a handful of Democratic senators, who have received high marks from the NRA, signaled openness this week to new regulations on guns marking a change in their positions in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
LaPierre was interrupted twice during his remarks by gun-control advocates, with one holding aloft a sign that read: “The NRA: Killing Our Kids.” The protestor was Medea Benjamin, a radical left-wing activist from an organization called CODEPINK that touts both an anti-American and anti-Israel agenda. She was forcibly removed from the press conference by security guards after standing, raising her sign and shouting repeatedly “the NRA has blood on its hands”.
She later said that LaPierre showed himself to be “unbelievably out of touch with the American people” and said that his message “didn’t resonate very well with the journalists in there, much less the American public.” She also alleges that she went into the press conference with a protest banner but did not want to use it because she thought the group would “express a lot of sympathy for the poor families” and “give in on something.”
Adding his voice to the ongoing debate was Daniel Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a group advocating for gun control. On Friday he said that NRA members should join the effort to reduce gun violence. “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. We are all Americans and we all agree we are better than this,” he said.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday morning, LaPierre refused to relent on the powerful organization’s opposition to gun control legislation. “If it’s crazy to call for putting police in and securing our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” he told David Gregory, the show’s host. “I think the American people think it’s crazy not to do it. It’s the one thing that would keep people safe and the NRA is going try to do that,” LaPierre added.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who appeared on “Meet the Press” right after LaPierre, called the NRA leader’s views “extreme” and “tone deaf” “He blames everything but guns, movies, the media, President Obama, gun-free school zones, you name it, the video games, he blames them,” Schumer said. “Now, trying to prevent shootings in schools without talking about guns is like trying to prevent lung cancer without talking about cigarettes. He is so doctrinaire and so adamant that I believe gun owners will turn against him as well.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long time proponent of flinty gun control laws, said that what was heard at Friday’s NRA press conference was “a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country” and chided LaPierre by saying, “Leadership is about taking responsibility, especially in times of crisis.” He added that, “Instead of offering solutions to a problem they (the NRA) 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; a paranoid vision of America.”
Charging the firearms lobbyists with blaming “everyone but themselves” for the gun violence crisis in America that has spun out of control, Bloomberg says America must rise above the fray and demand that Congress and President Obama institute reasonable gun restrictions. He also noted that, “74 percent of NRA members support common sense restrictions like criminal background checks for anyone buying a gun.”