NRA: Place armed security in each school
WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest gun lobby, which has stayed mostly quiet since a gunman killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school a week ago, called Friday for Congress to require armed security guards in every school, saying that doing so could prevent acts of mass violence from happening again.
In a defiant and unapologetic speech, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said Friday that the organization would use its resources to build what he called a "national school shield emergency program." The NRA's program would be led by Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman and U.S. attorney from Arkansas.
LaPierre on Friday blamed the Connecticut shooting spree on violent video games and movies, as well as the portrayal of guns and mass shootings in the media and the lack of a comprehensive database of the mentally ill.
He also said no-gun zones at schools could invite new attacks by those he described as "monsters and predators."
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre said.
"What if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he'd been confronted by qualified, armed security?" he said. "Will you at least admit it's possible that  little kids, that 26 innocent lives might have been spared that day?"
The organization, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, announced its plan in Washington just 90 minutes after President Obama and many other Americans observed a moment of silence for the 20 first-graders and six adults who died last week when gunman Adam Lanza forced his way into a Connecticut school with a semiautomatic rifle and two handguns. Lanza, who took his own life, also killed his mother, who owned the guns.
LaPierre argued that guns are the solution, not the problem.
"Before Congress reconvenes, before we engage in any lengthy debate over legislation, regulation or anything else; as soon as our kids return to school after the holiday break, we need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work," he said. "And by that I mean armed security."
Friday's heavily guarded event drew hundreds of reporters to the Willard Hotel, just a few blocks from the White House. Beefy security guards in suits -- but no visible weapons -- restricted entrance to a hotel ballroom. They asked reporters politely for credentials, and one non-uniformed guard also patrolled with a dog.
Dozens of protesters lined the street outside the hotel. Many were carrying "Stop the NRA" signs. Despite the security guards, two of the protesters interrupted LaPierre's speech by unfurling banners and yelling. "The NRA is killing our children!" one of the protesters shouted.
Outside the hotel, Josh Neirman, a 27-year-old Vermont native who lives in Washington, D.C., said he felt compelled to attend the protest because the city has no vote in Congress and he wanted his voice to be heard. He called for Congress to reconsider reinstating a ban on so-called assault rifles.
"We don't need weapons like that on the street," he said. "It's time for the NRA to step aside."
LaPierre and Hutchinson declined to take questions about their proposal, including whether the NRA is working with the White House. Obama this week asked Vice President Biden to head up efforts to address gun violence.
In recent years, Americans have struggled with the questions raised by horrifying mass acts of violence, including the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and the 2011 Arizona shooting spree that killed six and wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. But the age, innocence and vulnerability of the Newtown, Conn., children challenged even some strong advocates of gun rights to reconsider their position, particularly on military-style weapons and large-capacity magazines that allow shooters to fire multiple rounds.
"Everything should be on the table," West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat and lifelong NRA member, said earlier this week, although he later insisted, "I'm not supporting a ban on anything."
Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, issued a statement Friday saying the NRA's proposal represents "extreme rhetoric" whose time was over.
"The NRA could have chosen to be a voice for the vast majority of its own members who want common sense, reasonable safeguards on deadly firearms," he said, "but instead, it chose to defend extreme pro-gun positions that aren't even popular among the law-abiding gun owners it represents."
Republican leaders were mostly silent after the LaPierre speech, with some unsurprising exceptions: Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, an avid hunter and longtime gun-rights advocate, applauded the proposal.
"Schools across the country have become unnecessary targets to violence and mayhem," he said in a statement. "Having trained law enforcement within the school to protect both the staff and our children would provide a line of defense that has long been afforded various institutions, such as our nation's airports, federal buildings and museums."
School officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, dismissed the NRA idea. Schools should be "safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who has led a national campaign to reduce gun violence in cities, called LaPierre's speech a "paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America, where everyone is armed and no place is safe."
Some Republicans, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also said schools shouldn't be "armed camps for kids."
"I don't think that's a positive example for children," he told reporters Friday during an event in Newark. "We should be able to figure out other ways to enhance safety."