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WASHINGTON — The leader of the National Rifle Association on Sunday defended his call for placing armed guards in all U.S. schools despite criticism of the group’s response to the massacre of schoolchildren and adults in Newtown, Conn.
“If it’s crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” Wayne LaPierre, NRA Executive Vice President, told NBC’s Meet the Press.
“Look, a gun is a tool. The problem is the criminal,” Mr. LaPierre said.
He asked Congress for money to put a police officer in every school. He also said the NRA would coordinate a national effort to put former military and police officers in schools as volunteer guards.
The gun lobby waited a week before issuing a statement on the Dec. 14 killings of the 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a gunman who opened fire with an assault rifle. The gunman killed his mother before he attacked the school. He then killed himself.
Mr. LaPierre on Friday proposed placing armed guards in every school, an idea the NRA has long supported. That proposal has drawn the most criticism.
The congressman from Newtown’s district, U.S. Rep.Chris Murphy, tweeted: “Walking out of another funeral and was handed the NRA transcript.” Mr. Murphy called it “the most revolting, tone deaf statement I’ve ever seen.”
The New York tabloids skewered Mr. LaPierre’s speech.
The Daily News labeled him “Craziest Man on Earth” in a front-page headline on Saturday. The New York Post piled on with “Gun Nut! NRA loon in bizarre rant over Newtown.”
The NRA’s proposal was also attacked by politicians including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the nation’s largest teachers union, and Mark Kelly, husband of former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a shopping-center shooting in January, 2011, in Tucson.
Mr. LaPierre was undaunted. “I think that is the one thing that we can do immediately that will immediately make our children safe,” he said.
He scoffed at the idea that reinstating the federal assault-weapons ban that lapsed in 2004 would prevent more massacres, citing shootings that took place when the ban was in effect, including the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.
“It’s not going to make any kid safer,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) made the same point earlier on Sunday. “The assault-weapons ban didn’t work then, and it won’t work now,” he tweeted.
The NRA leader dismissed efforts to revive the assault-weapons ban as a “phony piece of legislation” that’s built on lies. He made clear it was highly unlikely that the NRA could support any new gun regulations.
“You want one more law on top of 20,000 laws, when most of the federal gun laws we don’t even enforce?” he said.
Mr. LaPierre said another focus in preventing shootings is to lock up violent criminals and get the mentally ill the treatment they need.
“The average guy in the country values his freedom, doesn’t believe the fact he can own a gun is part of the problem, and doesn’t like the media and all these high-profile politicians blaming him,” he said.
On NBC, Mr. Graham said he owns an AR-15, the type of assault rifle used by 20-year-old Adam Lanza in Newtown.
“I own an AR-15. I’ve got it at my house. The question is if you deny me the right to buy another one, have you made America safer?” he asked. “I don’t suggest you take my right to buy an AR-15 away from me because I don’t think it will work, and I do believe better security in schools is a good place to start.”
Other gun-rights advocates in Congress showed a willingness to consider gun restrictions immediately after the Newtown shooting.
U.S. lawmakers have not approved a major new federal gun law since 1994.
“It’s gonna be a battle,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) told CNN’s State of the Union.
He and Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) criticized the NRA for blaming gun violence on everything but guns.
An attempt to prevent shootings in schools without talking about guns “is like trying to prevent lung cancer without talking about cigarettes,” Mr. Schumer said on NBC.
Also receiving scrutiny is a ban on high-capacity magazines that allow the firing of multiple rounds in a short time.
They have been used in several mass slayings.
Mr. Graham said he opposes that move as well.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) said on ABC’s This Week that “putting some limits” on high-capacity magazines “could be part of the solution, but not the only solution.”A former prosecutor, she also called for more stringent background checks of gun buyers.
President Obama has said he wants proposals on reducing gun violence that he can take to Congress in January. After the Dec. 14 shootings, he called on the NRA to join the effort. Mr. Obama has asked Congress to reinstate the 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.
He also has indicated that he wants Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity magazines.
If Mr. Obama’s review is “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,” Mr. LaPierre said.
The NRA has tasked former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, an Arkansas Republican, to lead a program designed to use volunteers from the group’s 4.3 million members to help guard children.
Mr. 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 Mr. Hutchinson, who was an undersecretary in the Homeland Security Department when it was formed. He said schools should not be required to use armed security.
Mr. 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.