WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby group, on Friday called for armed guards at every U.S. school and rejected the notion that curbs on weapons would protect children in the wake of last week’s Connecticut school massacre.
In a rare press briefing, NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre gave an impassioned speech that blamed the media for glorifying violence and perpetuating the idea that tighter gun restrictions would reduce mass shootings.
“They perpetuate the dangerous notion that one more gun ban - or one more law imposed on peaceful, lawful people - will protect us where 20,000 others have failed,” LaPierre said at the event at a hotel near the White House.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
His approach was rejected by gun control activists who have revived demands for a ban on assault rifles and big ammunition clips after the Newtown, Connecticut killings, which followed a series of mass shootings at schools and public places.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the NRA offered “a paranoid, dystopian vision” of a more violent country. “While they promote armed guards, they continue to oppose the most basic and common sense steps we can take to save lives - not only in schools, but in our movie theatres, malls, and streets,” he said in a statement.
LaPierre, twice interrupted by hecklers who were hustled out, suggested a range of ways to prevent violence besides the school guard program, including better treatment of mental illness and cracking down on gory video games and films.
The NRA had largely been silent since last Friday, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza used a high-powered rifle to shoot dead 20 young children and six adults at close range at the Sandy Hook elementary school.
The massacre of so many children provoked national outrage that some see as marking a tipping point for sweeping federal legislation to restrict weapons and ammunition and a law requiring background checks on buyers before all gun purchases.
President Barack Obama has formed an interagency group led by his cabinet members to come up with specific proposals by January that could include legislation and executive action.
LaPierre, whose organization counts 4 million people as its members, said the United States should focus on quick action that would better arm schools.
He 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.
“I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school - and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January,” LaPierre said.
There are now about 10,000 armed guards in U.S. schools, most of them in middle and high schools. There are about 130,000 schools in the country. 7
Shooting deaths are common in the United States, where the right to own a gun is included in the Constitution.
Soon after the NRA’s press briefing, news spread of another multiple shooting in Pennsylvania. The Altoona Mirror newspaper reported that four people including the shooter were killed and three police officers were wounded in Frankstown Township.
Hutchinson and the NRA officials took no questions after making statements at the 30-minute press event, which was interrupted twice by shouting protesters.
In Washington, some Democratic lawmakers who had not supported gun control said this week they were reconsidering. One, U.S. Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, apologized for his earlier silence on the issue.
On Friday, Yarmuth blasted the NRA and said it does not represent the views of its members. “Every American has the right to be safe from guns without carrying a gun. The only meaningful contribution the NRA made today was to the gun manufacturers in the form of free advertising,’ he said.
Democratic lawmakers have pledged to reintroduce early next year a measure to reinstate a 1994 assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, among other reforms.
But there was no guarantee that any laws would change. Only one Republican, outgoing Senator Scott Brown, a moderate from Massachusetts who said he backed the assault weapons ban, has said he would support any tightening of gun regulations.
Medea Benjamin, co-director of the peace group Code Pink, who was one of the protesters escorted from the news conference, criticized the NRA and legislators. “If teachers can stand up to gunmen, Congress can stand up to the NRA,” she said.
Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Patrick Rucker, David Ingram and Alina Selyukh in Washington, and Stephanie Simon in Denver, Colorado.; Editing by Karey Wutkowski and David Storey
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