The longtime head of the National Rifle Association denounced lawmakers and the media for seeking to “exploit” last week’s deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school.
“As usual, the opportunists wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain,” Wayne LaPierre, NRA CEO and executive vice president, said in a politically charged speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md.
LaPierre, whose organization has opposed almost all gun-control measures in Congress and the states, decried the “breakback speed of calls for more gun control laws and the breathless national media eager to smear the NRA.”
He accused Democrats — including Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — of trampling the rights of gun owners.
“They hate the NRA,” LaPierre said. “They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom.”
The “intellectual elites,” as LaPierre called them, “don’t care — not one whit — about America’s school system and schoolchildren.”
“If they truly cared, what they would do is protect them,” he said. “For them, it’s not a safety issue; it’s a political issue. They care more about control, and more of it. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so that they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”
LaPierre pointed out that the FBI failed to follow up on a detailed tip it received about Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 students and staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Cruz is said to have used an AR-15 assault-style weapon that he purchased legally.
“They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of family, the failure of America’s mental health system and even the unbelievable — the failure of the FBI. They fantasize about more laws stopping what other laws failed to stop. The truth is laws succeed only when people obey them.”
And as he has done in the aftermath of other massacres, LaPierre argued that schools ought to arm teachers and administrators — something President Trump has also advocated in recent days.
“To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said, repeating a talking point he used following the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. “It’s a bizarre fact that in this country, our jewelry stores — all over this country — are more important than our children. Our banks, our airports, our NBA games, our NFL games, our office buildings, our movie stars, our politicians — they’re all more protected than our children at school. Does that make any sense to anybody? Do we really love our money and our celebrities more than we love our children?”
American schools, he said, are “wide-open targets.”
A week after the shootings in Newtown, LaPierre dismissed renewed calls from President Barack Obama and some lawmakers for increased gun control. Instead, he called on schools to defend themselves with weapons.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said on Dec. 21, 2012.
“If it’s crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our school to protect our children, then call me crazy,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” two days later.
At the conference, LaPierre also argued that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun purchases — which Trump and other lawmakers want to improve — originated with the NRA, and that the gun lobby has fought to get disqualifying mental health records added to the national database.
But, as Media Matters’ Timothy Johnson noted, the NRA backed a lawsuit against requiring states to submit such records to the database. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor, 5-4, in the 1997 decision of Printz v. the United States.
NRA national spokeswoman Dana Loesch, who appeared at a CNN town hall with Parkland, Fla., survivors on Wednesday night, spoke before LaPierre, accusing news networks of chasing ratings in the aftermath of the massacre.
“Many in legacy media love mass shootings,” Loesch said. “I’m not saying you love the tragedy, but you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold.”
The NRA had released an ad earlier that day saying the same thing. The mainstream media coverage of the Parkland, Fla., killings, the ad asserted, “just put out the casting call for the next mass shooter.”
"The mainstream media love mass shootings. I'm going to say it again; the mainstream media love mass shootings…and you, the #MSM, just put out the casting call for the next mass shooter." @MrColionNoir #NRA pic.twitter.com/1XtqVoA23l
— NRATV (@NRATV) February 22, 2018
Loesch, who was confronted by Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel during the CNN event, told CPAC attendees that she needed a security detail to exit the town hall.
She also accused the media and lawmakers of unfairly targeting the NRA.
“We will not be gaslighted into thinking that we’re responsible for a tragedy that we had nothing to do with,” Loesch said.
The comments from the top NRA executives come amid pressure from the Parkland shooting survivors are pputting on lawmakers to take action. At the White House Wednesday, President Trump hosted a listening with students, teachers and parents from communities hit by mass school shootings.
Trump said that arming teachers and staff was potentially the best way to prevent such tragedies, but also reiterated his support for stricter background checks, changing the minimum age to buy guns from 18 to 21, and a ban on the sale of so-called bump stocks, like the one used by the shooter in Las Vegas.
On Twitter Thursday, Trump commended the NRA, including top executives LaPierre and its chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, saying he believes the organization would “do the right thing” to protect school children.
What many people don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, is that Wayne, Chris and the folks who work so hard at the @NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018
Trump repeated that sentiment during a meeting on school safety at the White House later that morning.
“There’s a tremendous feeling that we want to get something done,” the president said, “including at the NRA.”
LaPierre closed his remarks at CPAC with religious fervor.
“There is no greater personal, individual freedom than the right to keep and bear arms,” LaPierre said. “It is not bestowed by man but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright.”
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