Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, just spoke for the first time since 17 people died during a high school shooting last week — and he used the opportunity to blame gun control advocates for pushing, well, gun control after the shooting.
“What they want are more restrictions on the law-abiding,” LaPierre told a friendly audience at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday. “Think about that — their solution is to make you, all of you, less free.”
LaPierre spoke the week after a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“If they seize power … our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever,” LaPierre continued. “Socialism is a movement that loves a smear.” In less bombastic terms, he blames left-leaning citizens for pushing for gun reform.
He went on to say the Second Amendment staunchly defends every American’s right to bear arms, and that his organization would be happy to work with schools to make them safer.
LaPierre’s words echoed his message just days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. He asserted then that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” That, he argued, might have helped stop the shooter from killing 20 young children and six adults.
That argument remains in use today. Earlier on Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested arming teachers at schools and training them to defend their students. “If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly,” he said, adding that schools would only have to arm around 20 percent of educators.
So if you thought the Trump administration and the NRA might consider serious and comprehensive gun reform in the wake of the Parkland shooting, think again. Trump even tweeted his support for the NRA on Thursday morning, naming LaPierre specifically as someone who “work[s] so hard” and “will do the right thing.”
“It sounds like they’re scared of these kids”
LaPierre’s message counters days of activism by the students of Stoneman Douglas High School.
During a CNN town hall on Wednesday night, one of the students asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) if he would continue to accept campaign donations from the NRA. Rubio did not give a direct answer: “The answer is people buy into my agenda,” he responded. “And I do support the Second Amendment, and I support the things.”
Just over an hour after the town hall, the NRA released a video blaming the “mainstream media” for school shootings. “No one on this planet benefits more from mass shootings and motivates more people to become mass shooters than our mainstream media,” Colion Noir, a gun rights activist, declared in the video.
But the pressure Parkland’s high school students have put on the NRA may be part of the reason LaPierre — and his organization — has responded so forcefully in recent days.
“It sounds like they’re scared of these kids,” Jaclyn Schildkraut, an expert on mass shootings at the State University of New York at Oswego, told me. “LaPierre is kind of missing the reason why they are speaking in favor of gun control.”
Schildkraut, who grew up near Stoneman Douglas, said even some NRA members agree with the students. “There’s tons of people around the country that are NRA members that still see the need for background checks and keeping weapons out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” she said.
It’s unlikely the student-led pressure will cease. Just minutes after LaPierre’s speech, Emma Gonzalez — a prominent student-activist at Stoneman Douglas — tweeted her “Disgust” with LaPierre’s remarks: “The Disgust I feel for the lies you’re promoting with no consequences? Unsurpassed.”