The National Rifle Association generated a firestorm of criticism and ridicule when its chief lobbyist – Wayne LaPierre – declared that the answer to mass school shootings was more guns in schools.
But if Mr. LaPierre had any intention of softening his rhetoric regarding the recent Sandy Hook grade school shooting in Connecticut – particularly in light of normally pro-gun pundits and elected officials distancing themselves from his adamant stance – that was not apparent Sunday when he sat down for an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“If it’s crazy to call for putting police in and securing our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” LaPierre told NBC’s David Gregory. “I think the American people think it’s crazy not to do it. It’s the one thing that would keep people safe and the NRA is going try to do that.”
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The NRA’s chief spokesman also dismissed any congressional effort to restrict the sale of assault-style rifles, limit the size of ammunition clips, or require background checks for those who purchase firearms at private gun sales – legislation Sen. Dianne Feinstein says she intends to introduce this coming year.
Curbing private gun sales, he said, would put “every gun sale under the thumb of the federal government.”
The NRA has tasked former congressman and former Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson with developing its proposal to put more armed guards in schools – an idea opposed by many parents in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza, armed with an assault-style rifle with large magazines, handguns, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, killed 20 first-graders and six women who worked at the school before taking his own life.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mr. Hutchinson likened armed school guards to plain-clothes air marshals on passenger airliners, or to such guards in uniform at some shopping malls or movie theaters.
“People resisted having weapons on airplanes, but I oversaw the federal air marshals,” Hutchinson said. “It's a deterrent. No one sees that weapon, but they are protected on that airplane, and it's a huge positive impact on safety."
"We have one-third of our schools now, of the 23,000 schools, that have armed guards,” he said. “Should the other two-thirds have armed guards? I certainly think it's an option they should consider. It's not a novel approach, it's a safety approach."
Andrei Nikitchyuk couldn’t disagree more strongly. Mr. Nikitchyuk is a former Russian military officer trained to handle an AK-47 assault rifle. He immigrated to the United States 22 years ago, and today he’s the father of a Sandy Hook third-grader who hid in a classroom during Adam Lanza’s murderous rampage.
"Do you really want to have a shootout like in O.K. Corral in our schools?" he told CBS News. "Where will you find the money in the budget for the additional policemen? Where will you find money in the budget for bullet-proof windows and doors? Do we want a prison system in place of our schools? They will be locked in, right, just like that, and everyone will be afraid of everyone. Why are we doing that?”
Also speaking on “Meet the Press” Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer, (D) of New York, said NRA leader LaPierre is “so extreme and so tone deaf that he actually helps the cause of us passing sensible gun legislation in the Congress.”
“He is so doctrinaire and so adamant that I believe gun owners turn against him as well,” Sen. Schumer said. That’s a debatable point given the NRA’s very loyal membership and extraordinary clout on Capitol Hill. Still, some polls show large numbers of NRA members in favor of things like background checks at gun shows.
If past experience with episodes like the high school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado is a guide, it will be an uphill fight for gun control advocates urging passage of stricter laws.
Many agree with Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R) of South Carolina, who appeared with Sen. Schumer on “Meet the Press.”
"The best way to interrupt a shooter is to keep them out of the school and if they get into the school have somebody who can interrupt them through armed force," said Sen. Graham, who owns an AR-15 assault-style rifle.
For his part, LaPierre cites Israel as a model for the type of school security system he advocates.
“Israel had a whole lot of school shootings until they did one thing: They said ‘we're going to stop it,’ and they put armed security in every school and they have not had a problem since then,” he said.