Unwavering NRA opposes any new gun restrictions
WASHINGTON — The largest U.S. gun-rights lobbying organization declared its unwavering opposition to any new gun regulations in the aftermath of the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, accusing the White House of trying to undermine the constitutional right to bear arms.
Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the influential National Rifle Association, said Sunday that not a single gun regulation would make children safer. He criticized “a media machine” for blaming the gun industry for each new attack like the one at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“Look, a gun is a tool. The problem is the criminal,” LaPierre said, in a nationally broadcast television interview.
LaPierre hardly backed down from his comments Friday, when the NRA broke its weeklong silence on the Dec. 14 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook that killed 20 students and six adults. The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, also killed his mother at their home and shot himself as police closed in at the school.
LaPierre’s assertion that guns and police officers in all schools are what will stop the next killer drew widespread scorn.
Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy, whose district includes Newtown, called it “the most revolting, tone deaf statement I’ve ever seen.” A headline from the conservative New York Post summarized LaPierre’s initial presentation before reporters with the headline: “Gun Nut! NRA loon in bizarre rant over Newtown.”
LaPierre told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that only those armed guards and police would make kids safe.
“If it’s crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” LaPierre said. “I think the American people think it’s crazy not to do it. It’s the one thing that would keep people safe.”
He asked Congress for money to put a police officer in every school. He also said the NRA would coordinate a national effort to put former military and police officers in schools as volunteer guards.
The NRA leader dismissed efforts to revive an assault weapons ban as a “phony piece of legislation” that’s built on lies. He made clear it was highly unlikely that the NRA could support any new gun regulations.
“You want one more law on top of 20,000 laws, when most of the federal gun laws we don’t even enforce?” he said.
LaPierre said another focus in preventing shootings is to lock up violent criminals and get the mentally ill the treatment they need.
“The average guy in the country values his freedom, doesn’t believe the fact he can own a gun is part of the problem, and doesn’t like the media and all these high-profile politicians blaming him,” he said.
Some lawmakers were incredulous, yet acknowledged that the political and fundraising might of the NRA would make President Barack Obama’s push for gun restrictions a struggle — particularly in getting new regulations approved in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives where many lawmakers have close ties to the gun-rights group.
“I have found the statements by the NRA over the last couple of days to be really disheartening, because the statements seem to not reflect any understanding about the slaughter of children” in Newtown, said Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent.
He said the NRA is right in some of the points it makes about the causes of gun violence in America.
“But it’s obviously also true that the easy availability of guns, including military style assault weapons, is a contributing factor, and you can’t keep that off the table. I had hoped they’d come to the table and say, everything is on the table,” Lieberman said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said LaPierre was “so extreme and so tone deaf” that he was making it easier to pass gun legislation.
“Look, he blames everything but guns: movies, the media, President Obama, gun-free school zones, you name it. And the video games, he blames them,” Schumer said.
But Lieberman was less hopeful that lawmakers would approve new gun regulations next year.
“It’s going to be a battle. But the president, I think, and vice president, are really ready to lead the fight,” he said.
Obama has said he wants proposals on reducing gun violence that he can take to Congress in January, and after the Connecticut shootings, he called on the NRA to join the effort. The president has asked Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and pass legislation that would end a provision that allows people to purchase firearms from private parties without a background check. Obama also has indicated that he wants Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity magazines.
If Obama’s review is “just going to be made up of a bunch of people that, for the last 20 years, have been trying to destroy the Second Amendment, I’m not interested in sitting on that panel,” LaPierre said.
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.
The NRA has tasked former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, an Arkansas Republican, to lead a program designed to use volunteers from the group’s 4.3 million members to help guard children.
Hutchinson said the NRA’s position was a “very reasonable approach” that he compared to the federal air marshal program that places armed guards on flights.
“Are our children less important to protect than our air transportation? I don’t think so,” said Hutchinson, who served as an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security when it was formed.
Hutchinson said schools should not be required to use armed security. LaPierre also argued that local law enforcement should have final say on how the security is put into place, such as where officers would be stationed.
LaPierre cited Israel as a model for the type of school security system the NRA envisions.
“Israel had a whole lot of school shootings until they did one thing: They said ‘we’re going to stop it,’ and they put armed security in every school and they have not had a problem since then,” he said.
Democratic lawmakers in Congress have become more adamant about the need for stricter gun laws since the shooting. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is promising to push for a renewal of expired legislation that banned certain weapons and limited the number of bullets a gun magazine could hold to 10. NRA officials made clear the legislation is a non-starter for them.
“It hasn’t worked,” LaPierre said. “Dianne Feinstein had her ban and Columbine occurred.”
An armed sheriff’s deputy was assigned to Columbine High School in Colorado the day of the massacre there in 1999, but was unable to stop the violence. Twelve students and a teacher were killed before the two student gunmen shot themselves.
There also has been little indication from Republican leaders that they’ll go along with any efforts to curb what kind of guns can be purchased or how much ammunition gun magazines can hold.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, noted that he had an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in his home. He said America would not be made safer by preventing him from buying another one. As to gun magazine limits, he said he can quickly reload by putting in a new magazine.
“The best way to interrupt a shooter is to keep them out of the school, and if they get into the school, have somebody who can interrupt them through armed force,” Graham said.
LaPierre also addressed other factors that he said contribute to gun violence in America, but he would not concede that the types of weapons being used are part of the problem.
He was particularly critical of states, which he said are not placing the names of people into a national database designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.
The American Psychiatric Association responded to LaPierre’s comments by saying that he seemed to conflate mental illness with evil at several points.
“People who are clearly not mentally ill commit violent crimes and perform terrible acts every day,” said Dr. James Scully, chief executive of the trade group. “Unfortunately, Mr. LaPierre’s statements serve only to increase the stigma around mental illness and further the misconception that those with mental disorders are likely to be dangerous.”
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