The head of the United States’ National Rifle Association has lashed out at gun control advocates, calling them Democratic elites who are politicising the latest mass school shooting to chip away at the country’s constitutionally guaranteed gun rights.
In his first public appearance since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, 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 the deaths of 17 students and staff.
It came as President Donald Trump reinforced his support for arming well-trained school teachers and also tweeted support for minor gun controls including increasing the legal age for buying assault weapons to 21 from 18 and banning bump stock devices.
“Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue – I hope!” he tweeted.
In front of a friendly audience of young conservatives outside Washington, LaPierre said: “The elites don’t care not one whit about America’s school system and school children. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”
Moments before he took to the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the NRA’s brash spokeswoman Dana Loesch gave a fiery address that attacked the mainstream media and blamed mass shootings on red flags missed by the authorities and lax background checks.
“I’m going to say something that some people are going to say is controversial so I’ll say it really slowly so all the poeple on the platform at the back [the media] can hear me loud and clear,” she said.
“Many in legacy media love mass shootings,” she said to cheers and cries of “yes” from the audience.
“You guys love it. Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you.”
Many journalists hit back on social media, saying that covering mass shootings was the worst part of their job. MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle said it was “disgusting… garbage” that was similar to suggesting the NRA celebrates the boom in gun sales that occurs after most mass shootings in the US.
In her speech, Loesch said that the common factor in all recent mass tragedies was that the “FBI dropped the ball”.
The Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, Florida was the second-deadliest shooting at a US 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 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 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.
He finished his address by saying: “To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.”
Loesch said that NRA members would not be “gaslighted” by attempts to blame the tragedy on them.
She took a far more inflammatory tone than she did in a town hall meeting organised by CNN the previous night with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors.
At the meeting she was repeatedly booed and she deflected questions about the need for more restrictions on the availability of guns. Instead, she insisted that keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill or people with criminal records would keep students safe.
In a listening session with school shooting victims on Thursday, Trump raised the idea 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.
He followed it with a series of tweets on Friday that expressed support for the NRA (“Great people and Great American Patrols” who “love our Country and will do the right thing,” he said) and claimed school shootings would stop “instantly” if well-trained teachers were armed with guns.
He also expressed support for greater background checks, a ban on bump stocks and increasing the legal age for buying assault weapons to 21 from 18. It 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.
The notion of arming teachers at US 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.
When Trump raised the prospect at the listening session, 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.”
Ex-student Nikolas Cruz, 19, 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.
Featured Image: Optimum Defense Services
Inset Image: Reuters, Fairfax Media