Updated Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 12:16 AM
WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Association, which was mostly quiet since last week's slaughter at a Connecticut elementary school, called Friday for a program to arm and train volunteer NRA members as guards in schools as the best way to protect children from gun violence.
The group blamed video games, the news media and lax law enforcement — not guns — for a recent rash of mass shootings.
It offered no new proposals to restrict firearms.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president, at a packed media event that was interrupted twice by protesters demanding tougher gun controls.
Angry and combative, LaPierre, who has led the NRA's operations for two decades, complained that the news media had unfairly "demonized gun owners," and he called the makers of violent video games "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people."
Shock over the Connecticut shootings has spurred wide calls for tighter gun-control measures, with even some pro-gun-rights lawmakers aligned with the NRA saying they were rethinking their positions.
During the week of silence from the NRA following the slaughter of a score of elementary-school children, some had speculated the group might soften its stance, at least slightly. Instead, LaPierre delivered a 25-minute tirade against the notion that another gun law would stop killings in a culture where children are exposed daily to violence in video games, movies and music videos. He argued that guns are the solution, not the problem.
"Before Congress reconvenes, before we engage in any lengthy debate over legislation, regulation or anything else, as soon as our kids return to school after the holiday break, we need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work," LaPierre said. "And by that I mean armed security."
He said Congress should immediately appropriate money to post an armed-police officer in every school. Meanwhile, he said, the NRA would develop a school emergency-response program that would include volunteers from the group's 4.3 million members to help guard children.
Supporter's view differs
His armed-guards idea was immediately lambasted by gun-control advocates, and not even the NRA's point man on the effort seemed willing to go so far. Former Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson, of Arkansas, whom LaPierre named national director of the program, said in an interview that decisions about armed guards in schools should be made by local districts.
"I think everyone recognizes that an armed presence in schools is sometimes appropriate," Hutchinson said. "That is one option. I would never want to have a mandatory requirement for every school district to have that."
He also noted that some states would have to change their laws to allow armed guards at schools.
Hutchinson said he'll offer a plan in January that will consider other measures such as biometric-entry points, patrols and consideration of school layouts to protect security.
The armed-guards idea is not a new one. The federal government and local districts have developed programs meant to bolster security at schools — with varying models and mixed results — and the NRA has developed safety programs for children and schools, and suggested armed guards.
This time, LaPierre said the NRA would dedicate its resources and expertise to developing the new program. He did not say how much money it planned to spend.
He said armed-security guards at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 might have stopped the gunman, Adam Lanza, at the outset of his rampage.
"Will you at least admit," LaPierre asked news reporters, "that 26 innocent lives might have been spared that day?" Lanza fatally shot his mother at home before killing 26 people at the school, 20 of them 6- or 7-year-olds. He then killed himself.
"Why is the idea of a gun good when it's used to protect the president of our country or our police, but bad when it's used to protect our children in our schools?" LaPierre asked. "They're our kids. They're our responsibility. And it's not just our duty to protect them; it's our right to protect them."
Gun-free school zones identified by signs, he said, serve only to "tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to effect maximum mayhem with minimum risk."
Advocates for gun control were unimpressed, with some critics calling the presentation paranoid and out of step with much of the country.
"Anyone who thought the NRA was going to come out today and make a common-sense statement about meaningful reform and safety was kidding themselves," said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., who has supported a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines, among other measures.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, of New York, who has led and helped to finance calls for tougher gun laws, called the NRA's response "a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country."
The event, billed as a news conference, was odd both in tone and substance. Rather than offer the type of hedged or carefully calibrated comments that politicians and lobbyists often prefer, LaPierre let loose with a scorching attack on the NRA's accusers.
He blasted what he called "the political class here in Washington" for pursuing new gun-control measures while failing, in his view, to adequately prosecute violations of existing gun laws, pay for law-enforcement programs or develop a national registry of mentally ill people who might prove to be "the next Adam Lanza."
He said the next mass-school shooter was probably already plotting an attack. The only question, he said, is how many more shooters there will be.
"A dozen more killers? A hundred more?" LaPierre asked. "How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?"