* Guns protect U.S. president, so why not children? NRA asks
* Some gun-control supporters wished for compromise
* Similar call for armed guards after 1999 school shooting
By David Ingram and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, Dec 21 Any chance for national unity
on U.S. gun violence appeared to wane a week after the
Connecticut school massacre, as the powerful NRA gun rights
lobby called on Friday for armed guards in every school and
gun-control advocates vehemently rejected the proposal.
The solution offered by the National Rifle Association
defied a push by President Barack Obama for new gun laws, such
as bans on high-capacity magazines and certain semiautomatic
At a hotel near the White House, NRA Chief Executive Wayne
LaPierre said a debate among lawmakers would be long and
ineffective, and that school children were better served by
immediate action to send officers with firearms into schools.
LaPierre delivered an impassioned defense of the firearms
that millions of Americans own, in a rare NRA news briefing
after the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in which a gunman
killed his mother, and then 20 children and six adults at an
"Why is the idea of a gun good when it's used to protect our
president or our country or our police, but bad when it's used
to protect our children in their schools?" LaPierre asked in
comments twice interrupted by anti-NRA protesters whom guards
forced from the room.
Speaking to about 200 reporters and editors but taking no
questions, LaPierre dared politicians to oppose armed guards.
"Is the press and political class here in Washington so
consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and America's gun
owners," he asked, "that you're willing to accept a world where
real resistance to evil monsters is a lone, unarmed school
Proponents of gun control immediately rejected the idea,
hardening battle lines in a social debate that divides Americans
as much as abortion or same-sex marriage.
A brief NRA statement three days earlier in which the group
said it wanted to contribute meaningfully to ways to prevent
school massacres led to speculation that compromise might be
possible, or that the NRA was too weak to defeat new
"The NRA's leadership had an opportunity to help unite the
nation behind efforts to reduce gun violence and avert massacres
like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School," said Democratic
Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York. She supports new
limits on ammunition and firearms, and universal background
checks for gun buyers.
WAITING FOR A COMPROMISE
Adam Winkler, author of "Gunfight," a history of U.S. gun
rights, said he expected the NRA might yield on background
checks. About 40 percent of gun purchasers are not checked,
according to some estimates.
"The NRA missed a huge opportunity to move in the direction
of compromise. Instead of offering a major contribution to the
gun debate, which is what they promised, we got the same old
tired clichés," said Winkler, a law professor at the University
of California at Los Angeles.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Monday showed the percentage of
Americans favoring tough gun regulations rising 8 points after
the Newtown shooting, to 50 percent.
Inside the NRA, though, attitudes might not change much.
"The anti-gun forces which are motivated by hysteria and a
refusal to deal with the facts are going to be facing a
counter-attack here that is going to be very, very effective,"
said Robert Brown, an NRA board member and the publisher of
Soldier of Fortune, a military-focused magazine.
During the news conference, LaPierre laid out a plan for a
"National School Shield" and said former U.S. congressman Asa
Hutchinson from Arkansas would head up the NRA's effort to
develop a model security program for schools.
The NRA is far and away America's most powerful gun
organization and dwarves o ther groups with its lobbying efforts.
In 2011, it spent $3.1 million lobbying lawmakers and federal
agencies, while all gun-control groups combined spent $280,000,
according to records the groups filed with Congress.
ECHOES OF COLUMBINE
Ken Blackwell, another NRA board member, said NRA leaders
were discussing how to react to the Newtown shooting on the day
it happened, helping LaPierre formulate a position.
"He and the team of lawyers around him are very bright and
they understand the Constitution," said Blackwell, a Republican
former state official in Ohio.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as interpreted
by the Supreme Court in 2008 guarantees an individual right to
own firearms, though it allows for some limits.
While LaPierre's proposal to arm schools came as a surprise
to those who hoped for compromise, it is not new.
Former NRA president, the late actor Charlton Heston, made a
similar proposal after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre
near Denver that killed 12 students and one teacher.
"If there had been even one armed guard in the school, he
could have saved a lot of lives and perhaps ended the whole
thing instantly," Heston said in April 1999, according to The
New York Times.
Columbine had an armed sheriff's deputy who exchanged
gunfire outside the school with one of the two teenage killers,
according to a Jefferson County, Colorado, sheriff's office
report. The deputy was unable to hit or stop the student, who
was armed with a semiautomatic rifle, from entering the school,
and the deputy stayed in a parking lot with police, the report
Protesters at the news briefing on Friday accused the NRA of
being complicit in gun deaths.
"If teachers can stand up to gunmen, Congress can stand up
to the NRA," said Medea Benjamin, co-director of the peace group
Code Pink, who was escorted from the news conference.