In a combative press conference on Friday, National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Director Wayne LaPierre indicated his group won't support gun-control measures in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting, instead calling for armed police officers to be placed in every school in America.
Representatives from the NRA spoke for the first time following last Friday's shooting, which left 26 dead, including 20 children. LaPierre suggested that armed security could have prevented shooter Adam Lanza from carrying out his massacre. He took repeated shots at the media for "demonizing" guns and gun owners while spreading "misinformation" about guns. He also blamed media for promoting a culture of violence through movies and video games.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre said.
LaPierre's defiant tone added fuel to the already-simmering debate over the nation's gun laws following the Sandy Hook shooting. His policy ideas stood in direct contrast to gun-control advocates, who this week called on measures that would restrict access to guns. That included President Barack Obama, who announced the creation of an administration task force to craft new gun-control measures.
"The fact that this problem is complex is no longer an excuse for doing nothing," the president said in a statement Wednesday. "This time, the words need to lead to action."
The post-Newtown gun control debate has already become heated, but the scene at the NRA's news conference at the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington, DC at times resembled a three-ring circus. Reporters were kept far back from LaPierre's podium by a cloth-lined barricade. And officials repeatedly refused to take questions.
Several dozen protesters, including one on stilts, stood outside the historic hotel to picket the news conference. Despite tight security measures, LaPierre was interrupted twice by banner-carrying protesters who shouted pro-gun control slogans.
"The NRA is killing our children. We've got to stop the violence and the violence starts with the NRA!" one shouted.
"Ban assault weapons now," yelled another, who carried a sign that read "NRA. Blood on Your Hands."
But in breaking the NRA's silence on the Newtown shooting, LaPierre unflinchingly defended his view that more guns – not less – could prevent future massacres. He called schools one of the most vulnerable public places because many are unprotected by armed security while other institutions like banks and airports are.
"Does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn't planning his attack on a school, he's already identified at this very moment?" he asked.
If Lanza had been confronted by armed guards, LaPierre said, "Will you at least admit it's possible that 26 little kids, that 26 innocent lives might have been spared that day?"
Gun-control advocates slammed LaPierre's proposal as "out of touch."
"The extreme rhetoric of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA is disturbing and dangerous, and will only exacerbate America's deadly culture of gun violence," Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said in a statement.
NRA officials announced the creation of a "school shield" program that can train school administrators on how to defend their facilities. LaPierre also called on Congress to appropriate funds to place armed police officers in every school in America, and do it quickly so that there is "blanket safety" in schools by January. He also called for the creation of a "national database of the mentally ill."
LaPierre reserved his sharpest criticism for politicians "who have tried to exploit tragedy for political gain" and the media. He named a little-known computer game called "Kindergarten Killers" and more popular titles like "Grand Theft Auto" and "Mortal Kombat" as well as older movies like "Natural Born Killers" and "American Psycho" as examples that promote a culture of violence.
"Here's another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal," he said. "There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people."
He also taunted the media for publishing reports that suggest that reducing access to guns could reduce violent crime.
"Now, I can imagine the headlines, the shocking headlines you'll print tomorrow. 'More guns,' you'll claim, 'are the NRA's answer to everything.' Your implication will be that guns are evil and have no place in society, much less in our schools," he said. "But since when did "gun" automatically become a bad word?"
NRA President David Keene at the outset of the news conference originally said that LaPierre and others wouldn't be taking questions. But media members shouted inquiries at LaPierre and other officials throughout the event.
"I indicated at the outset, this is the beginning of a serious conversation. We won't be taking questions today," Keene said at the conclusion. "We will be willing to talk to anybody beginning on Monday."