WASHINGTON/NEWTOWN, Connecticut (Reuters) - The powerful U.S. gun rights lobby called on Friday for armed police in all U.S. schools within weeks as Americans remembered the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre with a moment of silence.
National Rifle Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre said 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.
The NRA announcement came a short time after bells chimed and Americans bowed their heads to remember the 20 students, all 6 or 7 years old, and six adults killed by a gunman who opened fire with a semi-automatic assault rifle last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
“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 asked at the NRA briefing in Washington.
LaPierre said the news media and violent video games shared blame for the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. His remarks were twice interrupted by protesters who unfurled signs and shouted “stop the killing.”
The slaughter of so many young children has rekindled fierce debate about U.S. gun laws. This week, some lawmakers called for swift passage of an assault-weapons ban and President Barack Obama commissioned a task force to find a way to quell violence, a challenge in a nation with a strong culture of gun ownership.
LaPierre did not take questions at the news conference. His comments drew a sharp response from gun-control advocates.
“They offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
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 after 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 state troopers before being killed in a shootout in Frankstown Township, Pennsylvania.
‘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 and governors from Maine to California asked residents to follow suit. Church bells rang in tree-lined Newtown, and up and down the East Coast.
The attack shattered the illusion of safety in Newtown, a town of 27,000 people where some residents have already launched an effort aimed at tightening rules on gun ownership. A newly formed group calling itself “Newtown United” met this week to develop a strategy to influence the gun debate.
Democratic Senator-elect Chris Murphy, who spoke to the group on Wednesday, called the NRA comments “the most revolting, tone-deaf statement I’ve ever heard.”
The NRA proposal would take one of every seven U.S. police officers off the streets during school days, based on a Reuters analysis of U.S. government data.
Gun rights advocates were quick to back the NRA proposal.
“They have come up with an idea that is immediately usable,” said Joseph Tartaro, executive editor of The Gun Mag, a publication of the Second Amendment Foundation.
But Brian Giattina, a school board member in Birmingham, Alabama, said it would send the wrong message to children, teachers and parents.
“It tells them we have to have a gun to protect them. It is a complex problem that needs to involve mental health, education, law enforcement and the community,” he said.
Chris Ennis, 37, of Denver, Colorado, who said he shot his first gun at 7 years old, called the NRA suggestion “misguided.”
“I can’t help but think that with armed guards on duty, our schools only lack iron bars and a perimeter of barbed wire from becoming a prison,” said Ennis, the son of a long-time English teacher who himself has a son entering kindergarten
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 shootings, the gunman used a military-style rifle and carried two handguns which were legally registered to his mother, who Lanza shot and killed before the massacre.
The NRA proposal was similar to its call after the 1999 shooting spree at Columbine High School in Colorado, when two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before committing suicide. That school had an armed sheriff’s deputy on duty who was unable to stop the shooting.
At that time, Congress funded a “cops in schools” program, though many schools dropped the officers after the federal aid that paid for the program ran out.
A security consultant to the National Association of Secondary School Principals said armed guards would improve school safety but said it is not clear one would have prevented the carnage at Sandy Hook.
“He might have stopped it. He might have shortened it. He might have been the first one killed,” said consultant Bill Bond.
The head of the largest U.S. teachers union called the NRA proposal “out of touch.”
“If your purpose is to reduce gun violence in schools, then the solution isn’t to add more guns to schools,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association.
Additional reporting by Alina Selyukh in Washington, Vernda Gates in Stephanie Simon in Boston and Maurice Tamman in New York; Writing by Scott Malone and Jim Loney; Editing by Will Dunham and Todd Eastham