Gun-control advocates responded swiftly – and negatively – to the National Rifle Association’s unusual presentation Friday to the media calling for armed guards in the nation’s schools.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, cochair of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said the NRA “offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America.” Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D) of New York, one of the House’s most vocal proponents of gun control, said she was saddened that the NRA had missed “an opportunity to help unite the nation behind efforts to reduce gun violence.”
“They twice engaged and fired at Eric Harris [one of the assailants] in an effort to stop the shooting, but were unsuccessful because they were outgunned by the assault weapons wielded by the two teens,” VPC executive director Josh Sugarmann said in a statement.
All spoke a week after a massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 first-graders and six staff dead. The slaughter of children has awoken the nation to what President Obama calls an “epidemic” of gun violence in a way that earlier mass shootings – in Tucson, Ariz., and Aurora, Colo. – have not.
Notably, Rep. Mike Thompson (D) of California, chairman of the new congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force that was formed in response to the massacre last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, did not explicitly reject the NRA’s proposal to put armed guards in every school. Instead, he called for a fuller response to gun violence that addresses mental health services, access to guns and ammunition, and American culture.
“Everyone agrees our schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, streets, and communities need to be safer,” Congressman Thompson said in a statement. “But we need a comprehensive approach that goes beyond just arming more people with more guns to make this happen.”
“Closing holes in our mental health system, addressing our culture’s glorification of violence, improving background checks for everyone who buys firearms, and reinstating the ban on assault weapons and assault magazines all must be part of a comprehensive approach to reduce and prevent gun violence,” the statement continued.
Thompson – a hunter, gun-owner, and Vietnam veteran – is one of a shrinking congressional cohort of gun-friendly Democrats.
In addition to calling for armed guards in schools, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre also decried the “blood-soaked” video games and movies that contribute to a culture of violence in America – an area in which he could have made common cause with his critics.
But he didn’t seem interested in dialogue. Instead, Mr. LaPierre’s angry tone, blaming the Obama administration for a rise in violent crime owing to a “declined willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals,” signaled a hardening of the NRA’s position: no further limits on access to guns or ammunition.
LaPierre’s presentation also sent a signal to pro-gun members of Congress that they risk the NRA’s wrath if they take a softer line on gun control. Even before Friday, some who had begun to talk moderation on gun restrictions have been pulling back.
On Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia, who has an “A” rating from the NRA, suggested the time had come for some gun restrictions. But by Wednesday, Senator Manchin was describing himself as a defender of the Second Amendment and calling for more focus on violent video games and mental health issues.
On Friday, LaPierre made clear he believes the way to prevent more Newtowns is to fight fire with fire.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said.