WASHINGTON (AP) — Guns and police officers in all American schools are what's needed to stop the next killer "waiting in the wings," the National Rifle Association declared Friday, taking a no-retreat stance in the face of growing calls for gun control after the Connecticut shootings that claimed the lives of 26 children and school staff.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," said Wayne LaPierre, the group's chief executive officer.
Some members of Congress who had long scoffed at gun-control proposals have begun to suggest some concessions could be made, and a fierce debate over legislation seems likely next month. President Barack Obama has demanded "real action, right now."
The nation's largest gun-rights lobby broke its weeklong silence on the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School with a defiant presentation. The event was billed as a news conference, but NRA leaders took no questions. Twice, they were interrupted by banner-waving protesters, who were removed by security.
Some had predicted that after the slaughter of a score of elementary-school children by a man using a semi-automatic rifle, the group might soften its stance, at least slightly. Instead, LaPierre delivered a 25-minute tirade against the notion that another gun law would stop killings in a culture where children are exposed daily to violence in video games, movies and music videos. He argued that guns are the solution, not the problem.
"Before Congress reconvenes, before we engage in any lengthy debate over legislation, regulation or anything else; as soon as our kids return to school after the holiday break, we need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work," LaPierre said. "And by that I mean armed security."
He said Congress should immediately appropriate funds to post an armed police officer in every school. Meanwhile, he said the NRA would develop a school emergency response program that would include volunteers from the group's 4.3 million members to help guard children.
His armed-officers idea was immediately lambasted by gun control advocates, and not even the NRA's point man on the effort seemed willing to go so far. Former Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, whom LaPierre named national director of the program, said in an interview that decisions about armed guards in schools should be made by local districts.
"I think everyone recognizes that an armed presence in schools is sometimes appropriate," Hutchinson said. "That is one option. I would never want to have a mandatory requirement for every school district to have that."
He also noted that some states would have to change their laws to allow armed guards at schools.
Hutchinson said he'll offer a plan in January that will consider other measures such as biometric entry points, patrols and consideration of school layouts to protect security.
LaPierre argued that guards need to be in place quickly because "the next Adam Lanza," the suspected shooter in Newtown, Conn., is already planning an attack on another school.
"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?" LaPierre asked. "A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?"
While there is a federally maintained database of the mentally ill — people so declared by their states — a 1997 Supreme Court ruling that states can't be required to contribute information has left significant gaps. In any case, creation of a mandatory national database probably would have had little impact on the ability of suspected shooters in four mass shootings since 2011 to get and use powerful weapons. The other people accused either stole the weapons used in the attacks or had not been ruled by courts to be "mentally defective" before the shootings.
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