NRA chief slams 'elites' for 'politicising' latest mass school shooting
The head of the National Rifle Association lashed out at gun control advocates on Thursday, calling them Democratic elites who are politicising the latest mass school shooting in the United States to chip away at the country's constitutionally guaranteed gun rights.
NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre delivered a full-throated defense of using guns to stop gun violence, weighing into a long-running political and cultural divide over access to weapons that has been inflamed by last week's shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 students and staff.
"The elites don't care not one whit about America's school system and school children," LaPierre told a friendly audience of young conservatives outside Washington. "Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms."
The Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was the second-deadliest shooting at a U.S. public school and has spurred unprecedented youth-led protests in cities across the country. Many of the teens and their parents taking part have called for more curbs on guns.
LaPierre, speaking at the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference, portrayed the NRA as the true protector of the country's school children. He bolstered a call by Republican President Donald Trump to arm teachers following the Parkland shooting, and offered free training.
"We must immediately harden our schools," he said. "Every day, young children are being dropped off at schools that are virtually wide open, soft targets for anyone bent on mass murder."
He said it should not be easier to shoot up a school than a bank or a jewelry store.
LaPierre attacked Democrats by name including Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Christopher Murphy and also took a swipe at the FBI for failing to follow up on a tip about the alleged shooter in the Parkland massacre. The FBI has said it failed to act on the tip.
Trump raised the idea on Wednesday of arming teachers, drawing a mixed reaction in a country where the right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment of the Constitution and there are fierce divisions on how to curb mass shootings and everyday gun violence.
Trump, who has backed gun rights and has been supported by the NRA, raised the idea during an emotional, hourlong discussion at the White House with people affected by school shootings. The gathering on Wednesday included students who survived the Florida attack and a parent whose child did not. The president reiterated the idea of arming some teachers in a series of tweets on Thursday.
Trump's comments at the meeting and in a series of Twitter posts on Thursday showed him seeking a balance between satisfying those who have urged him to press for some gun curbs, and not alienating the powerful NRA gun lobby.
In a tweet on Thursday the president praised the NRA's leadership and others working at the organization as "Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing."
The notion of arming teachers at U.S. public schools, which are largely governed by states, local councils and school boards, has been raised by some politicians in the past but has been dismissed by many critics as fraught with danger.
"Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!" Trump tweeted on Thursday.
When he raised the prospect at Wednesday's White House meeting, some people expressed support while others in the room opposed the proposal.
Mark Barden, whose son was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, told Trump that his wife, Jackie, a teacher, would say "school teachers have more than enough responsibilities right now than to have to have the awesome responsibility of lethal force to take a life."
The president was due to have a meeting on school safety with 10 state and local officials on Thursday.
Trump reiterated on Twitter he would advocate for tightening background checks for gun buyers, with an emphasis on mental health, and lifting the age limit to buy some kinds of guns.
Trump also stressed he would push for an end to the sale on bump stocks, which allow rifles to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute and which were used during another massacre in Las Vegas last year. Such devices were not used in the Florida shooting.
A 19-year-old former student at Stoneman Douglas, Nikolas Cruz, has been charged with carrying out the Parkland shooting. Authorities say he was armed with a semiautomatic AR-15 assault-style rifle that he had purchased legally last year.
While gun laws vary widely from state to state, most federal gun control measures would require the Republican-controlled Congress to act. Trump suggested on Thursday he wanted some action, tweeting, "Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue - I hope!"