Wayne LaPierre’s dismissal yesterday of stricter gun limits presages a national policy struggle between his National Rifle Association and President Barack Obama, who is promising to make the issue a priority.
NRA Chief Executive Officer LaPierre instead recommended arming school guards as a response to the Dec. 14 Connecticut school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults, meaning any effort to pass new gun-control laws must overcome opposition from an organization with longstanding clout in Congress.
While not unexpected, the NRA’s continued resistance to new firearms restrictions will make it more difficult to enact such measures, said Robert Spitzer, a political scientist who has written four books on gun control.
“It’s going to be a hard fight,” Spitzer said.
Obama has called for reinstating an assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004, closing loopholes that allow gun buyers to escape background checks and restricting high-capacity ammunition clips. In a video posted on Google Inc.’s YouTube website yesterday, the president urged gun-control advocates to pressure Congress to act.
To overcome NRA opposition, Spitzer said, Obama will have to spend some of the political capital he gained with his re-election last month. The Fairfax, Virginia-based gun-rights group spent $12 million seeking to deny Obama a second term.
“It’s the ideal moment of any newly elected president to offer a new idea,” said Spitzer, who’s chairman of the political science department at the State University of New York at Cortland. In addition, the Newtown, Connecticut, killings, in which most of the victims were first-graders, “shocked people in a way that other mass shootings did not,” he said. “When that happens, the NRA is at its low point of political influence.”
Still, the NRA remains a formidable force, with 4 million members and a well-funded political advocacy arm that, including its political action committee, spent $35 million for the 2012 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.
During a news briefing yesterday in Washington, LaPierre criticized violence in entertainment media, which he called “the filthiest form of pornography.” He showed excerpts from a video game titled, “Kindergarten Killers,” and singled out “blood-soaked” movies and music videos. He also questioned the lack of national database of mentally ill people
LaPierre rejected new restrictions on gun ownership and called for posting armed security guards at schools.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said. Officials took no questions yesterday and said they would begin responding to queries next week.
The NRA announced a plan to develop a comprehensive school security plan for use nationwide, headed by former U.S. Representative Asa Hutchinson, an Arkansas Republican and a former undersecretary at the Homeland Security Department.
Hutchinson said the security plan could rely on volunteers, and the NRA would sponsor the program since it has been running gun-safety and training programs for decades.
“Whether they’re retired police, retired military, or rescue personnel, I think there are people in every community in this country who would be happy to serve if only someone asked them and gave them the training and certifications to do so,” Hutchinson said.
Politicians of both parties questioned the proposal.
“I don’t necessarily think having armed guards outside of every classroom is the most conducive thing to a good educational environment,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, said yesterday in Newark. “We don’t want to make this an armed camp. I don’t think that would be positive.”
Data compiled by Bloomberg show that placing an armed guard in each of the 99,000 U.S. elementary, middle and high schools would cost an estimated $7.9 billion, based on annual income, equipment and benefits of $80,000, a figure from the National Association of School Resource Officers. The Hoover, Alabama-based group represents school-based police.
New York State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. called the NRA proposal “nothing but a distraction,” and New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said “putting an armed guard in every school building is not the answer.”
“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,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Gun control supporters criticized the NRA’s refusal to discuss any limits on weapons. Outside the hotel where LaPierre spoke, about 50 people gathered to demand that the NRA “stand down” on lobbying against gun-control measures.
Representative Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat whose district includes Newtown, called the NRA response “the most revolting, tone-deaf statement I’ve ever seen” in a post on Twitter after leaving a funeral for one of the victims.
A Dec. 17-18 CNN/ORC International poll showed 62 percent of respondents support a ban on military-style assault weapons and a prohibition against high-capacity ammunition magazines that allow guns to fire more than 10 bullets at a time. Another 95 percent favored mandatory background checks on gun buyers. The survey of 620 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
“The Second Amendment is the law of the land, but it was never intended to enable the mass murder of innocent children,” said Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat whose husband was killed in a 1993 mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road.
Vice President Joe Biden, who was named by Obama to lead a task force to look for ways to curb gun violence, discussed the issue with a dozen U.S. mayors on a conference call yesterday. He said the administration response would be “comprehensive.” The call included mayors of cities where mass shootings have occurred in recent years, including Aurora, Colorado; Blacksburg, Virginia; and Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and lifetime NRA member, said the gun-rights group needed to be involved in finding a solution.
“Every group with a role to play in this conversation should contribute,” Manchin wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post. “An all-or-nothing approach from any of these parties won’t result in the changes we need to keep our children safe.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who said she would introduce a bill to ban assault weapons when the new Congress convenes in January, said yesterday that former President Bill Clinton has offered to help pass the legislation. She also said that the use of social media could build a grassroots effort to pressure Congress into acting.
“There is no more uphill fight than this,” Feinstein said at a Capitol Hill press conference. “We’re just not going to knuckle under. It may take a year. It may take two. It may take three.”