WASHINGTON – The most powerful gun-rights lobby in the U.S. said Friday it wants to address gun violence by having an armed police officer in every school in the country.
The comments by the National Rifle Association came exactly a week after a gunman killed 26 people at a Connecticut school, including 20 children ages 6 and 7.
The comments were the group’s first substantial ones since the shooting, while pressure has mounted in Washington and elsewhere for more measures against gun violence.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said the NRA’s executive vice-president, Wayne LaPierre.
At least two protesters broke up his announcement, despite tight security. One man held up a large red banner that said “NRA killing our kids.” The protesters were taken away by security, shouting that guns in schools are not the answer.
The 4.3 million-member National Rifle Association may be facing its toughest challenge in the wake of national horror over last week’s killing of children, many of them shot multiple times and at close range by high-powered rifle.
LaPierre brushed aside the idea that gun control legislation is needed, saying, “20,000 other laws have failed.” Instead, he blamed video games, movies and music videos for exposing children to a violent culture day in and day out.
He also blamed the media, saying it has “demonized lawful gun owners” and “rewards (mass shooters) with wall-to-wall attention.”
As “some have tried to exploit tragedy for political gain, we have remained respectfully silent,” he added.
He refused to take any questions from the audience.
Reaction to the NRA comments was sharp.
“Their press conference was a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was outspoken for more gun control measures even before the shooting, said in a statement.
“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.”
LaPierre announced that former Rep. Asa Hutchison will lead an NRA program that will develop a model security plan for schools that relies on armed volunteers.
The NRA largely disappeared from public debate after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, choosing atypical silence as a strategy as the nation sought answers after the rampage. The NRA temporarily took down its Facebook page and kept quiet on Twitter.
Five more funerals or memorials were being held Friday in Newtown.
Since the shooting, President Barack Obama has demanded “real action, right now” against gun violence and called on the NRA to join the effort. His administration has been moving quickly after several congressional gun-rights supporters said they would consider new legislation to control firearms.
Obama has said he wants proposals on reducing gun violence that he can take to Congress by January, and he put Vice-President Joe Biden, a gun control advocate with decades of experience in the Senate, in charge of the effort.
The president said in a video released early Friday that the White House has received an outpouring of support for stricter gun laws over the past week. “We hear you,” he said.
A “We the People” petition on the White House website allows the public to submit petitions. Nearly 200,000 people have urged Obama to address gun control in one petition, and petitions related to gun violence have amassed more than 400,000 signatures.
At the same time, however, gun shops across the country have reported higher sales, including of assault weapons. A spike in gun sales is not uncommon after mass shootings.
Obama has already asked Congress to reinstate an 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.
The president also has indicated that he wants Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity magazines, which the 20-year-old gunman used in last week’s shooting.
Obama wants to build on a rare national mood after years of hesitation by politicians across the country to take on the issue of gun violence — and the NRA.
“I’ve been doing this for 17 years, and I’ve never seen something like this in terms of response,” said Brian Malte, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, based in Washington, D.C. “The whole dynamic depends on whether the American public and people in certain states have had enough.”
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a report Thursday showing that the Newtown shooting has led to more discussion about gun policy on social media than previous rampages. The report says users advocating for gun control were more numerous than those defending current gun laws.
Legislators, mostly Democrats, in California and New York plan a push to tighten what are already some of the most stringent state gun-control laws.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida have called for making it easier for teachers and other adults to have weapons in schools.
A Pew Research Center survey taken Dec. 17-19, after the shooting, registered an increase in the percentage of Americans who prioritize gun control (49 per cent) over gun owner rights (42 per cent).
Those figures were statistically even in July. The December telephone survey included 1,219 adults in all 50 states. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.