“Look, a gun is a tool. The problem is the criminal,” said Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the nation’s largest gun-rights lobby, in a nationally broadcast television interview.
LaPierre hardly backed down from his comments Friday, when the NRA broke its weeklong silence on the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
LaPierre’s assertion that guns and police officers in all schools are what will stop the next killer drew widespread scorn, and even some NRA supporters in Congress are publicly disagreeing with the proposal. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called it “the most revolting, tone deaf statement I’ve ever seen.” A headline from the 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 the 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.
“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, D-N.Y., 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 didn’t seem to be buying it. He said the NRA’s stand on new gun rules means passing legislation next year won’t happen easily.
“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 Dec. 14 shootings, he called on the NRA to join the effort. The president has 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. 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 NRA has tasked former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., 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.
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.”
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, R-S.C., 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. He said some states are not entering names into the system and 23 others are only putting in a small number of records.
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.”