During a press conference on Friday, the National Rifle Association unveiled its plan to protect America’s children: Put armed guards in schools.
“The only way, the only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved,” said Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the nation’s largest gun lobby. “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to have a good guy with a gun.”
He called on Congress to appropriate funds to put armed guards in every school in America by January, when children will return to classes after the holiday break.
The initial and overwhelming reaction to the press conference is that it’s a PR disaster for the NRA.
“LaPierre’s speech was a near pitch-perfect example of how not to conduct a heartfelt speech in the wake of a national tragedy,” said PR consultant Brian Adams. “From the cold reading of his speech to a frozen facial expression of ‘Why don’t you understand?’ LaPierre seemed determined from the get-go to pitch his organization.”
Social media users, too, skewered LaPierre for his proposals.
The NRA put forward the suggestions in response to last Friday’s shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In the aftermath of the event, the public directed much of its wrath at the NRA.
According to LaPierre, the NRA will develop and fund a model National School Shield Emergency Response Program that will be free to all schools interested in the program. Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman and former chief of the Drug Enforcement Agency, will lead the effort. During the press conference, Hutchinson said the program will rely in large part on volunteers from the community.
LaPierre also suggested creating a database of the mentally ill.
Twitter’s reaction to Friday’s press conference was swift and almost universally negative. A search for the #NRA hashtag yielded thousands of tweets criticizing LaPierre for his proposals for a database of people with mental illness and to put armed guards in schools.
Though a handful of NRA supporters and conservatives using the #tcot hashtag offered completely positive comments, others criticized the organization.
“This press conference [is the] best Christmas present the White House and the Democrats could get!” wrote Twitterer R. Saddler.
Many who tweeted about the conference remarked about the surreal atmosphere of the press conference itself, in which two protesters shouted at LaPierre and were quickly escorted out. Syndicated columnist Tina Dupay called it a perfect example of a “tone deaf” press conference, and Matt Seaton of The Guardian said it should make year-end lists as the worst speech of 2012.
Twitterer Tom Sauer perhaps put it most succinctly:
“Well that was a train wreck.”
LaPierre acknowledged that the media would find fault in the NRA’s suggestions.
“I can imagine the shocking headlines you’ll print tomorrow morning: ‘More guns,’ you’ll claim, ‘are the NRA’s answer to everything!'” He said. “Your implication will be that guns are evil and have no place in society, much less in our schools. But since when did the word ‘gun’ automatically become a bad word?”
LaPierre cast blame for violence in America on Hollywood, violent video games, and a media conspiracy.
“Too many in our national media … act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators,” he said. “Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws, and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.”
He also pointed out that President Obama had “zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year’s budget, and scrapped ‘Secure Our Schools’ policing grants in next year’s budget.”
This week, the president called on Vice President Joe Biden to lead efforts for the passage in congress of new gun-control laws by January.
Following the Newtown massacre, the NRA fell silent on social media, even shuttering its Facebook presence for a time. On Wednesday, it issued a statement saying it had remained quiet for several days out of respect for the families of the victims, a notion that LaPierre reiterated during Friday’s press conference.
The press conference concluded with one of the event’s few unscripted moments—you can see the transcript here—when Hutchinson told reporters: “This is the beginning of a serious conversation, but we won’t be taking questions today.”
LaPierre is scheduled to appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
The NRA presser was held just as another shooting incident, this one in rural Pennsylvania, took four lives, including that of the gunman.
A Pew Research study this week noted a shift in Americans’ opinions of guns, as more people now prioritize gun control over gun owners’ rights.
Ragan.com staff writer Matt Wilson contributed to this report.