For a week it was largely silent. But yesterday the National Rifle Association – and its belligerent CEO Wayne LaPierre – came out all guns blazing. In its first meaningful response to the Newtown massacre, America’s largest pro-gun lobby group offered its solution to deaths in the classroom: armed guards in every school. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with gun,” Mr LaPierre said.
Just hours after church bells across the country tolled 26 times in remembrance of the 20 children and six adults gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, the head of the NRA took to the podium to blame the media for demonising gun owners and disregarding the “callous and corrupt shadow industry that sells violence against its own people through vicious, violent video games”. The press, he insisted, was perpetuating “the notion that one more gun ban or one more law imposed on peaceable, lawful people will protect us where 20,000 other laws have failed.”
Interrupted twice by protesters who had sneaked into the audience in Washington to raise anti-NRA banners, Mr LaPierre spoke in terms that might find favour with the hardcore of his association’s 4.3 million-strong membership. Just 24 hours after President Obama ordered a task force led by Vice-President Joe Biden to come up with ways to reform the nation’s gun-control laws, Mr LaPierre made his own plea – that Congress “act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary” to put armed guards in schools.
Moments after a protester shouting ‘The NRA has blood its hands!” was led out by security, Mr LaPierre, who did not take questions from the assembled reporters, chided the media for reflexively adopting an anti-gun stance. “I can imagine 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?” he continued. “A gun in the hands of a Secret Service agent protecting our President isn’t a bad word. A gun in the hands of a soldier protecting the USA isn’t a bad word.”
The NRA’s attempt to draw an equivalence between national security and the arming of schools drew a sharp response from Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “I don’t even know where to begin,” he told MSNBC. “As a supporter of the Second Amendment [which guarantees Americans the right to bear arms] and a supporter of the NRA – even though I’m not a member – I just found it very haunting and very disturbing that our country now is talking about arming our teachers and our principals in classrooms.”
Meanwhile, the Violence Policy Centre, a not-for-profit group which campaigns for a reduction in gun violence, pointed out that Columbine High School, the site of the infamous massacre that left 15 dead in 1999, did in fact have armed guards on site when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire. “[The guards] twice engaged and fired at Eric Harris in an effort to stop the shooting but were unsuccessful because they were outgunned by the assault weapons wielded by the two teens,” Josh Sugarmann, the executive director of the centre said.
As Mr LaPierre was winding up his address news began to filter through about another shooting in Altoona, Pennsylvania, that left four people dead and three State Troopers injured. For the anti-gun lobby this would be further proof that there are too many guns on the streets of America. But no doubt Wayne LaPierre would have felt it justified his call to arms.
Guns of Choice: The top picks
The number of guns sold in the US each year is not recorded. However, each time somebody buys a gun, the cashier is legally obliged to perform an instant criminal background check. More than 16.8 million such checks were performed in the first 11 months of 2012.
America’s most popular civilian firearms include:
Bushmaster AR-15: The semi-automatic assault weapon used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown shootings is a variant on the US army’s standard issue M4. 1.5 million have been built in the past five years, one for every 209 Americans.
Glock 17: Since the first generation Glock was brought to market in 1982, more than 2.5 million have been manufactured. The semi-automatic pistol is now the handgun of choice for US law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, DEA and US Marshals Service.
Remington Model 870 Pump-Action Shotgun: The bestselling shotgun in history, 10 million Remington 870 have been produced since 1950. They are favoured by hunters and sportsmen as well as law enforcement agencies and soldiers.
Smith & Wesson Model 10: The iconic six-shot revolver has been in production since 1899, and is the most popular handgun of its kind of the 20th Century, with more than six million manufactured in all.
In his own words: Lapierre’s speech
While some have tried to exploit tragedy for political gain, we have remained respectably silent. Now, we must speak for the safety of our nation’s children.
Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones. They post signs advertising them. And, in doing so, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.
How many more copycats are waiting in the wings? Rather than face their own moral failings the media demonise lawful guns.
It’s now time for us to assume responsibility for our schools. The only way – the only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection.
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. And the NRA is ready, willing and uniquely qualified to help.
The NRA is gonna bring all its knowledge, all its dedication and all its resources to develop a model national schools shield emergency response programme for every school in America that wants it. From armed security to building design and access control, to information technology, to student and teacher training, this programme will be developed by the best experts in the field … with a budget provided by the NRA of whatever scope the task requires.