NRA chief lashes Democrats for ‘exploiting’ Florida massacre
Gun rights figurehead: ‘They hate the Second Amendment, they hate individual freedom’
The National Rifle Association (NRA) broke its silence on the issue of US gun control in the wake of last week’s deadly Florida shooting, with the head of the organisation launching a vigorous defence of gun rights on Thursday.
Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) - an annual conference for conservatives held just outside Washington – NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre accused Democrats and the media of “exploiting” the tragedy.
“They don’t care about our school children,” he said. “They want to make all of us less free.”
Mr LaPierre told the assembled crowd that “opportunists” had taken advantage of last week’s deadly school shooting in Florida, and he named off a list of senior Democratic figures including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy, who he claimed represented a “tidal wave” of European-style socialism.
‘Not a safety issue’
“The elites don’t care not one whit about America’s school system and schoolchildren. If they truly cared, what they would do is they would protect them. For them, it’s not a safety issue, it’s a political issue.”
He continued: “Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms... They hate the NRA, they hate the Second Amendment, they hate individual freedom.”
As with previous gun tragedies, the NRA had been notably silent in the immediate aftermath of the latest mass shooting. Seventeen people were killed when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The lobby group is one of the most powerful forces in American conservatism and is a regular presence at the annual CPAC conference, the largest gathering of political conservatives in the US.
Speaking shortly after Mr LaPierre, Mr Pence told the conference “the safety of our nation’s schools and our students” is a top priority for the Trump administration. He urged people to come forward with an “American solution” to “confront and end this evil”.
“President Trump and our entire administration will continue to take strong action to make our schools safe and to give law enforcement and our families the tools they need to deal with people struggling with dangerous mental illness.” He provided little detail of any specific policy proposals, however.
As Mr Trump repeated his call for teachers to be armed, the NRA also appeared to lend its support for the suggestion.
“We must immediately harden our schools,” Mr La Pierre said. “Every day young children are being dropped off at schools that are virtually wide open, soft targets for anyone bent on mass murder. It should not be easier for a madman to shoot up a school than a bank or jewellery store or some Hollywood gala.
“Schools should be the hardest target in this country. Evil must be confronted with all necessary force to protect our kids.”
The organisation also launched a TV advertisement on Thursday which claimed “the mainstream media love mass shootings”, arguing that tragedies such as last week’s school shooting helped ratings.
Dozens of Republican members of Congress receive donations from the NRA and have traditionally been reluctant to challenge the organisation.
But some Republicans, particularly political leaders in Florida such as former presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, are coming under pressure to act on gun control amid continuing outrage over the Parkland school killings.