After a week of silence after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., the National Rifle Association went on the attack Friday morning, insisting that mass killings are the fault of the media, politicians who pass laws banning firearms from schools, the government's refusal to assemble a database of the mentally ill, the president for eliminating funding for some school safety grants — the fault, in other words, of everybody but the NRA, and the fault of everything except the flood of guns, including high-powered assault weapons, in our society.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre insisted that the only way to protect children from guns in schools is to put guns in schools. "What if when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he had been confronted by qualified armed security?" Mr. LaPierre said in a news conference that was twice interrupted by protesters. "Will you at least admit it's possible that 26 little kids, that 26 innocent lives might have been spared that day? Is it so abhorrent to you that you'd rather risk the alternative?"
Mr. LaPierre's contention is that by passing gun-free-school acts, we have set up our children as sitting ducks, that mentally disturbed killers are even as we speak plotting new attacks because they know that schools "are the place to inflict maximum mayhem at minimum risk." He called on Congress to immediately act to put an armed security guard in every school, and he offered up the NRA's assistance to train them.
Apparently he is unaware that many schools already have police officers stationed in them and that gun-free-school acts don't prevent law enforcement officials from bringing their service weapons on school grounds. Evidently, he is unaware that Virginia Tech has its own police force on campus and that it was unable to stop the killing there. Perhaps he missed the fact that mass shootings occur in theaters, shopping malls, offices, even temples, and that adding more armed guards to schools would do nothing to stop them.
What Mr. LaPierre and the NRA are unwilling to confront is the fact that the gunmen in Connecticut and in Aurora, Colo., came armed with weapons designed for one purpose only — killing people — and that they possessed arsenals easily capable of overwhelming a single police officer. What are the chances that an armed guard at Sandy Hook Elementary would have been able to stop a man who shot his way through a locked door, or that an officer might have stopped a man who came into a movie theater wearing battle gear and tossing tear gas canisters?
Schools in Maryland and throughout the nation have placed additional resources into school security. That's appropriate and in many cases does prevent violence. But it's no reason not to take reasonable action to remove the most dangerous weapons from circulation or to close the loopholes that allow so many firearms sales to be conducted outside the purview of criminal background checks.
The NRA had an opportunity today to prove that it is just as responsible as an organization as most of its members are with their firearms. Instead, with a mantra that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," it has disqualified itself as a part of the national conversation about how to deal with the threat of gun violence. Its response was so tone deaf, so inflexible, that the public cannot help but shudder. In all but the most conservative districts, standing with the NRA must now be considered a much bigger liability for our political leaders than standing against it.
Mr. LaPierre said the organization's decision to remain silent for a week after the Newtown shootings was a sign of respect for the people who lost their loved ones there. Those who have called for gun control measures in the intervening week, he intimated, are cynically profiting from those terrible deaths. He has it precisely backward. It is the NRA that is seeking to manipulate the facts of the Sandy Hook massacre to maintain its own influence. This time, the public cannot and will not buy it.