WASHINGTON — Leaders of the National Rifle Association said Sunday that they would fight any new gun restrictions introduced in Congress, and they made clear that they were not interested in working with President Barack Obama to help develop a broad response to the Connecticut school massacre.
During an appearance on the NBC News program “Meet the Press,” Wayne LaPierre, the vice president of the powerful gun lobby, was dismissive of a task force established by Obama and led by Vice President Joe Biden that is examining ways to reduce gun violence.
“If it’s a panel that’s just going to be made up of a bunch of people that, for the last 20 years, have been trying to destroy the Second Amendment, I’m not interested in sitting on that panel,” LaPierre said, adding that the “NRA is not going to let people lose the Second Amendment in this country, which is supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people.”
At a widely watched news briefing on Friday, LaPierre said the NRA’s solution to prevent mass shootings like those that have occurred in the last few years – several of them on school campuses – was to put armed guards in schools nationwide.
“If it’s crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” LaPierre said. “I think the American people think it’s crazy not to do it.”
During the briefing, he and the gun group’s president, David Keene, did not directly address plans proposed in the last week that would ban assault rifles or otherwise restrict the availability of firearms.
But during a round of appearances on the Sunday talk shows by LaPierre, Keene and Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas who will lead the gun group’s response to the shooting in Newtown, Conn., they made it clear that the NRA opposed all of the gun restrictions now under discussion and did not believe they should be part of the discussion.
‘A phony piece of legislation’
On the question of whether a limit on high-capacity ammunition would reduce the likelihood of mass shootings like the one in Connecticut, LaPierre said in a testy exchange with David Gregory, the host of “Meet the Press,” that “I don’t think it will.”
“I keep saying it, and you just won’t accept it – it’s not going to work. It hasn’t worked,” LaPierre said.
As for the idea of reinstating a ban on so-called assault rifles, which was in place from 1994 to 2004, he said, “I think that is a phony piece of legislation, and I do not believe it will pass for this reason: It’s all built on lies that have been found out.”
While the NRA has been criticized sharply by gun-control advocates since it broke its silence about the Connecticut shooting on Friday, it did receive some support from Sen. Lindsay Graham, the influential South Carolina Republican who also appeared Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
“People where I live – I’ve been Christmas shopping all weekend – have come up to me: ‘Please don’t let the government take my guns away,’ ” Graham said. “And I’m going to stand against another assault ban because it didn’t work before, and it won’t work in the future.”
Graham noted that he had an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in his home. He said America would not be made safer by preventing him from buying another one.
As to gun magazine limits, he said he can quickly reload by putting in a new magazine.
“The best way to interrupt a shooter is to keep them out of the school, and if they get into the school, have somebody who can interrupt them through armed force,” Graham said.
LaPierre was critical of states that don’t place the names of mentally ill people into a national database designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. He said some states are not entering names into the system and 23 others are only putting in a small number of records.
The American Psychiatric Association responded to LaPierre’s comments by saying that he seemed to conflate mental illness with evil at several points.
“People who are clearly not mentally ill commit violent crimes and perform terrible acts every day,” said Dr. James Scully, chief executive of the trade group. “Unfortunately, Mr. LaPierre’s statements serve only to increase the stigma around mental illness and further the misconception that those with mental disorders are likely to be dangerous.”
Obama has said he wants proposals on reducing gun violence that he can take to Congress in January, and he has called on the NRA to join the effort. He has asked Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and pass legislation that would end a provision that allows people to purchase firearms from private parties without a background check.
Armed officers in schools
The NRA has tasked Hutchinson to lead a program designed to use volunteers from the group’s 4.3 million members to help guard children.
Hutchinson said the NRA’s position was a “very reasonable approach” that he compared to the federal air marshal program that places armed guards on flights.
“Are our children less important to protect than our air transportation? I don’t think so,” said Hutchinson, who served as an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security when it was formed.
Hutchinson said schools should not be required to use armed security. LaPierre also argued that local law enforcement should have final say on how the security is put into place, such as where officers would be stationed.
Democratic lawmakers in Congress have become more adamant about the need for stricter gun laws since the shooting.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is promising to push for a renewal of expired legislation that banned certain weapons and limited the number of bullets a gun magazine could hold to 10. NRA officials made clear the legislation is a non-starter for them.
“It hasn’t worked,” LaPierre said. “Dianne Feinstein had her ban and Columbine occurred.” The Associated Press contributed.