The executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association has called for the U.S. Congress to act immediately to get armed police officers into all schools, a recommendation made just hours after a memorial in Newtown, Conn., was held to mark a week since the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Wayne LaPierre addressed the media Friday in an attempt to defend gun owners' rights in the wake of the Newtown massacre that left 20 students and six Sandy Hook staff dead. The 20-year-old gunman also killed his mother before he took his own life at the school.
He used a military-style assault rifle in the school shooting.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre told reporters in Washington, D.C.
"I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January," he said.
After LaPierre spoke, the man designated to lead the NRA's proposed program addressed the media and noted that trained, armed security personnel at schools would be "by no means the only element" of a broad school security model program that schools across the nation could draw from.
The gun rights lobby group, which has about 4.3 million members, will use its resources to develop a model "National School Shield" emergency response program for every school in the U.S. that wants it, LaPierre said.
LaPierre said armed guards are used to protect some politicians, banks, office buildings, power plants, courts and even sports stadiums.
"Yet when it comes to the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenceless, and the monsters and predators of this world know and exploit it. That must change now," a copy of LaPierre's statement said.
His speech was interrupted twice by protesters with banners. One female protester was led away by security as she shouted: "The NRA has blood on its hands" and "Ban assault weapons now."
During his statement, the NRA's first news conference since the Newtown shootings, LaPierre blamed video games, movies and music videos for exposing children to violence.
"In a race to the bottom, many conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behaviour and criminal cruelty right into our homes," LaPierre said.
LaPierre did not take questions after the news conference.
Schools can tweak plan as needed
Former Republican congressman Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, whom LaPierre named national director of the organization's program, said he took the assignment with the understanding that he would be leading a team of independent security experts guided "solely by what are the best security solutions for the safety of our children while at school."
Hutchinson said they would work towards crafting a comprehensive "model security plan," which could serve as a template that local schools — could work with and tweak depending on their circumstances. Large urban schools and small rural schools would all be able to draw from the plan, he said, noting that "every school and community is different."
"Armed, trained, qualified school security personnel will be one element of that plan, but by no means the only element," he said. "If a school decides, for whatever reason, that it doesn't want or need armed security personnel, that of course is a decision to be made by the parents of the local school board, at the local level."
He also noted in an interview with The Associated Press that some states would have to change their laws to allow armed guards at schools.
He also noted that the program would not depend on "massive funding" from the federal or local levels of government, and would make use of local volunteers working in their own communities.
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.
NRA 'just out of tune'
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who co-founded a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns in 2006, blasted the NRA online, saying the organization's Washington leadership was "out of step" with its members. Bloomberg called the NRA's news conference a "shameful evasion" of the crisis and called on Americans to "demand a plan" to stop gun violence.
"Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe," the Bloomberg statement said.
Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York called the NRA's response "both ludicrous and insulting" and pointed out that armed personnel at Columbine High School in Colorado and the Fort Hood Army post in Texas could not stop mass shootings.
Madea Benjamin, a political activist and one of the protesters who interrupted the Friday's NRA press conference, said at first she "naively thought" the NRA would say "the tide turned" and push for an assault weapons ban.
When she heard the opposite, Benjamin felt she "had to get up and speak out."
"I think the NRA is just out of tune with what is called for at this moment, when the American people are ready for gun control," said Benjamin in an interview with the CBC's Asha Tomlinson.
She said the U.S. needs stronger ways of keeping guns out of the hands of unstable people, and the NRA did not put forward anything that provides a solution.
"I'm a mother. I don't want to see my kids going to school, watching somebody with a weapon," said Benjamin, who co-founded U.S.-based grassroots peace movement Code Pink.
"I want them not to be exposed to weapons. I want to live in a country where we do everything we can to take weapons off of the street, not put more of them onto the streets."
Earlier Friday, Newtown's memorial began at 9:30 a.m. ET. As Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and other officials gathered on the town hall's steps, a bell was rung 26 times, once for each victim at the school.
The process of saying goodbye to the individual victims continued in Newtown, with five more funerals or memorials scheduled for Friday.
With the shooting still fresh in the minds of Americans, President Barack Obama appointed Vice-President Joe Biden, a longtime gun-control advocate, to lead a group tasked with coming up with suggestions to address gun violence. Obama has said he wants Biden to come back with recommendations in January.
In a video posted Friday on YouTube by the White House, Obama said he has heard the outpouring of support for stricter gun laws.
He said he was encouraged that gun owners are among those saying steps can be taken "that both protect our rights and protect our kids."
"I will do everything in my power as president to advance these efforts because if there's even one thing we can do as a country to protect our children, we have a responsibility to try," Obama said.