National Rifle Assn. Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre speaks at a news conference… (Olivier Douliery / Abaca…)
WASHINGTON -- In an angry and defiant news conference, National Rifle Assn. Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre on Friday forcefully rejected calls to clamp down on guns in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, arguing instead for a massive deployment of armed guards to every school.
LaPierre pledged that the NRA would spearhead such an endeavor, appointing former Arkansas Rep. Asa Hutchinson to lead an effort to develop a cutting-edge model school security plan and a program to train volunteers who would be dispatched to campuses around the country.
In the meantime, he called on Congress to immediately appropriate funding to pay for police officers in every school "to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January."
The NRA chief noted that armed security guards are stationed in front of banks, airports, courthouses and sports stadiums, and that Secret Service agents and Capitol police with guns protect the president and members of Congress.
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"Yet when it comes to our most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless," he said in a sharply worded speech before a phalanx of news cameras. "And the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it. That must change now."
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun," he added, "is a good guy with a gun."
Friday’s news conference, held in the ballroom of a luxury Washington hotel a block from the White House, marked the first extensive comments by the influential pro-gun-rights organization since 20 young children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School one week ago.
In the wake of the tragedy, President Obama called for an urgent new focus on preventing gun violence, appointing Vice President Joe Biden to oversee a task force on the topic. Calls have mounted for new laws tightening access to guns, and advocates of such measures have publicly urged the NRA to join them in a dialogue about new restrictions.
But it was clear from the initial moments of the news conference that the NRA’s tone would not be a conciliatory one.
LaPierre cast the issue in terms of security, warning darkly about evil forces who want to inflict harm on the innocent.
"The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters, people that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them," he said. "They walk among us every single day. And 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? How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave while provoking others to try to make their mark?”
Two protesters interrupted his address at different times, holding up signs that read "NRA KILLING OUR KIDS" and "NRA HAS BLOOD ON ITS HANDS." Security guards pulled them out of the room as they shouted "Violence begins with the NRA!" and "Ban assault weapons now!"
Both times, LaPierre stood silently until they were gone, then resumed his speech without comment.
The NRA chief repeatedly lambasted the media, saying the implication in the press is that "guns are evil and have no place in society, much less in our schools."
"But since when did the gun automatically become a bad word?" he asked. "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 United States of America isn't a bad word. And when you hear your glass breaking at 3 a.m. and you call 911, you won't be able to pray hard enough for a gun in the hands of a good guy to get there fast enough to protect you."
"Is it so important to you that you’d rather continue to risk the alternative?" he chastised. "Is the press and the political class here in Washington, D.C., so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and American gun owners that you're willing to accept a world where real resistance to evil monsters is a lone, unarmed school principal left to surrender her life -- her life -- to shield those children in her care? No one -- no one -- regardless of personal political prejudice, has the right to impose that sacrifice."
Melanie Mason in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.