WASHINGTON — In the week after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as President Barack Obama and lawmakers issued calls for new restrictions on guns and new reviews of U.S. laws, America’s largest and most powerful gun lobby laid low.
But its silence did not mean the National Rifle Association had grown conciliatory.
When NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre finally weighed in Friday, he delivered a lashing speech that attacked gun-free school zones, the media, and violent movies and video games.
And he pledged that his group could train a vast force of armed volunteers to protect the nation’s schools.
The NRA’s stance underscored the pugilistic nature of the 141-year-old organization and its steadfast resistance to most efforts to curb gun sales or ownership. That battle is expected to begin in earnest as soon as next month, when a White House effort led by Vice President Joe Biden reports its recommendations on how to curb gun violence.
The gun lobby will be a key player in that fight and is increasingly seen as a partisan one, tightly aligned with the GOP, even though many Democratic lawmakers have backed NRA positions.
It remains to be seen how that might affect the influence of the NRA, which has easily swept back efforts to enact new federal firearms restrictions after mass shootings in the past decade. But the killing of 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Newton, Conn., school on Dec. 14 has brought new energy to the long-stymied gun control movement.
LaPierre, speaking to the media in a hotel blocks from the White House, made clear that the NRA does not see any need to further regulate guns. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun,” he said, “is a good guy with a gun.”
LaPierre blamed Hollywood and also singled out the video game industry, calling it “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people.”
In his criticism of Hollywood, LaPierre singled out “Natural Born Killers.” The film’s director, Oliver Stone, noted that such films are seen around the world. “If movies caused gun violence, all countries would have the same levels seen in the U.S. They do not,” he said.
LaPierre’s proposal — that the NRA finance a project to deploy armed volunteers to every school — met with scathing responses from gun-control advocates, educators and faith leaders, many of whom charged the group with failing to take responsibility for its role in gun violence.
“If there is a need for security at our elementary schools today, it is largely because the NRA’s Washington leadership has gutted the gun laws that used to keep schools and day cares and churches safe,” said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
In Congress, the reaction broke along partisan lines, with Democratic lawmakers voicing strong disgust with the group’s tack and their GOP colleagues mostly remaining silent.
One of the most pointed responses was a post on Twitter by Chris Murphy, the newly elected Democratic senator from Connecticut: “Walking out of another funeral and was handed the NRA transcript. The most revolting, tone deaf statement I’ve ever seen.”
The reaction from the NRA’s critics highlighted how the group has seen its political backing change. The group historically enjoyed bipartisan support, but has increasingly allied itself with the GOP. This year, it pumped at least $12 million into a campaign to defeat Obama.
The White House had no comment Friday on the NRA’s news conference. In a video address posted on the White House website before LaPierre spoke, Obama asked for help passing laws banning the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and requiring background checks for all gun purchases.
Richard Feldman, a former NRA regional political director, said the group’s polarizing role in the debate interferes with its message.
“Had the same words been uttered today by the heads of the National School Boards Association and the National Police Officers Association, everybody would’ve been in the room going, ‘Uh-huh, that makes sense,’ ” said Feldman, a frequent NRA critic who agrees with the school security proposal. “To the degree there’s going to be pushback, it’s going to be because the NRA said it.”
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LaPierre noted that armed security officers are stationed in front of banks, airports, courthouses and sports stadiums, and that armed Secret Service agents and Capitol police protect the president and members of Congress.
“Yet when it comes to our most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless,” he said. “And the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it. That must change now.”
He called on Congress to immediately appropriate funding to pay for police officers in every school “to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return” in January.
Meanwhile, the NRA asked former Arkansas Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who was undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to lead a team of security experts to develop a model school safety plan.
“Armed, trained, qualified school security personnel will be one element of that plan, but by no means the only element,” he said. Hutchinson added that the program would not depend on local or federal funding, but instead draw on volunteers.
The idea drew immediate criticism from gun-control advocates, who noted that two armed officers were on the scene of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. They engaged in gunfire with Eric Harris, one of the shooters, but were unable to stop him.
“The idea of having armed guards has been tried and failed,” said Kristen Rand, legislative policy director of the Violence Policy Center.