WASHINGTON/NEWTOWN, Connecticut The powerful U.S. gun rights lobby went on the offensive on Friday, arguing that schools should have armed guards, on a day that Americans remembered the victims of the Connecticut school massacre with a moment of silence.
National Rifle Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre argued that attempts to keep guns out of schools were ineffective and made schools more vulnerable than airports, banks and other public buildings patrolled by armed guards.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre told a news briefing, calling on lawmakers to station armed police officers in all schools by the time children return from the Christmas break in January.
Referring to the 20-year-old who entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14 and killed 26 people - 20 of them children aged 6 and 7 - with a semi-automatic assault rifle, LaPierre added: "Does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn't planning his attack on a school he's already identified at this very moment?"
LaPierre's remarks, in which he charged that the news media and violent video games shared blame for the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, were twice interrupted by protesters who unfurled signs and shouted "stop the killing."
This week some U.S. lawmakers called for swift passage of an assault-weapons ban and President Barack Obama commissioned a new White House task force to find a way to quell violence, a challenge in a nation with a strong culture of individual gun ownership.
LaPierre's comments drew a sharp response from gun-control advocates. He did not take questions at his news briefing.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused the NRA of "a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country."
"They offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe," he said.
About 50 pro-gun-control protesters rallied outside the downtown Washington hotel where the NRA held its event.
"They were blaming it on all kinds of other things instead of guns themselves," said Medea Benjamin, co-director of women's peace group Code Pink, who was escorted out of the briefing for speaking out and holding up a poster that read "NRA blood on your hands."
Another mass shooting occurred on Friday when a gunman killed three people and wounded three police officers before taking his own life in Frankstown Township, Pennsylvania, the Altoona Mirror reported, citing the county prosecutor.
"SENSE OF GUILT"
To remember the school massacre, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy observed a moment of silence with mourners at 9:30 a.m. EST (1430 GMT) and governors from Maine to California asked residents of their states to observe similar moments.
Church bells were also rung in memory of the victims in tree-lined suburban Newtown and up and down the East Coast, as far south as Florida and at the National Cathedral in Washington.
The attack shattered the illusion of safety in Newtown, a close-knit town of 27,000 people where many residents know someone affected by the attacks.
Some residents have already launched an effort aimed at tightening rules on gun ownership.
Members of a newly formed group calling itself "Newtown United" held a third meeting this week aimed at developing a strategy to influence the national debate on guns. Democratic Senator-elect Chris Murphy, who spoke to the group on Wednesday evening, called the NRA drive "the most revolting, tone-deaf statement I've ever heard."
In downtown Newtown, a makeshift memorial of teddy bears and flower bouquets has grown around two Christmas trees.
"What I feel is a sense of guilt because I've been a strong advocate of gun control for years," said 61-year-old resident John Dewees. "I wish I'd been more vocal. You wonder, had we all been, could we have averted this?"
LaPierre's proposal would take one of every seven U.S. police officers off the streets during school days, based on a Reuters analysis of data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Education Department.
Rural states would be particularly hard hit, with South Dakota, Montana and Alaska needing to assign about half of their police officers to schools.
Gun rights advocates were quick to back the NRA proposal.
"It was well stated and I think they have come up with an idea that is immediately usable," said Joseph Tartaro, of executive editor of The Gun Mag, a publication of the Second Amendment Foundation. "What they were doing was to state some facts and to offer an immediate, constructive solution."
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms and hundreds of millions of weapons are in private hands.
The right is closely guarded by gun advocates, even though about 11,100 Americans died in gun-related killings in 2011, not including suicides, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the Newtown massacre, the gunman used a military-style assault rifle and police said he carried hundreds of bullets in high-capacity magazines, as well as two handguns. The weapons were legally purchased and registered to his mother, who Lanza shot and killed before the massacre.
For a graphic on the NRA lobbying effort, click on the following link: link.reuters.com/pub84t