A woman snaps a photo as she watches Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle… (Mark Humphrey / Associated…)
WASHINGTON — Wayne LaPierre, a top official of the National Rifle Assn., lobbed a blistering attack on President Obama's gun proposals Thursday, accusing him of exploiting the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting to roll back gun rights.
"It was only a few weeks ago when they were marketing their anti-gun agenda as a way of protecting schoolchildren from harm. That charade ended at the State of the Union when the president himself exposed their fraudulent intentions," said LaPierre, addressing the National Wild Turkey Federation convention in Nashville. He criticized Obama for not mentioning school safety Tuesday.
"It's not about keeping kids safe in school. That wasn't even mentioned in the president's speech," he said. "They only care about their decades-long, decades-old gun control agenda: Ban every gun they can, tax every gun sold and register every American gun owner."
LaPierre's combative speech was the culmination of a fiery 24-hour offensive by the gun rights group, which included a provocative opinion piece on the conservative news site the Daily Caller and an online ad contending that a ban on high-capacity magazines would leave middle-class Americans vulnerable to criminals.
The White House declined to comment on LaPierre's remarks.
Obama, in his address to Congress, made only brief mention of the specific gun policies he advocates. But his call to take on gun violence served as the speech's emotional climax, as he repeatedly asserted that victims "deserve a vote" on the proposals.
The gun debate inspires impassioned rhetoric on both sides, but the NRA has followed a particularly aggressive tack in the two months since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that left 20 first-graders and six staff members dead and prompted renewed calls for tougher gun laws.
The fierce language is recognizable to those who closely watch the organization. Robert J. Spitzer, a professor of political science at SUNY Cortland, said many of the themes in LaPierre's statements have appeared for years in NRA mailings and publications for members.
"This is consistent with what their membership base wants," said Spitzer, author of the book "The Politics of Gun Control."
Now, he said, the NRA is aiming for a broader audience. "I'm not sure we've seen it in quite this concentrated fashion for the public at large," Spitzer said.
In the Daily Caller column, LaPierre presented a dystopian view of the United States under Obama's leadership. "Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face — not just maybe," he wrote. "It's not paranoia to buy a gun. It's survival. It's responsible behavior, and it's time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that."
LaPierre presented a similar case to senators last month. In a hearing, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) asked LaPierre whether he agreed with the view that gun ownership was not just about hunting or shooting sports or self-defense, but also to protect citizens from an oppressive government.
LaPierre said he agreed, but he added: "What people all over the country fear today is being abandoned by their government if a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs, that they're going to be out there alone, and the only way they're going to protect themselves in the cold, in the dark, when they're vulnerable, is with a firearm."
The group's ominous tone could be risky, said Republican strategist Steve Lombardo, who does not work with the organization. "Average Americans who are not gun enthusiasts but are generally supportive of the 2nd Amendment, they will look at these hardened positions and they will say to themselves, 'This doesn't seem right,'" he said.
The NRA's unyielding stance has worked in past battles, he said. But by sticking to its tested playbook, he said, the NRA could damage its brand in the long run.
"There's a level of hubris involved here because they've been so successful in the past," he said. "They're letting their past successes dictate their strategy."
There have been signs of fissures within the organization over their post-Sandy Hook message.
After the group released an ad last month that called Obama a hypocrite for protecting his daughters with armed guards, Jim Baker, an NRA senior lobbyist, told Reuters the spot was "ill-advised."