The National Rifle Association stunned Washington observers Friday when the group's CEO announced a plan to install armed guards at every school in the country -- its response to the Connecticut shooting last week that left 20 children dead.
Wayne LaPierre said the NRA would create the National School Shield program, which will be led by former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.).
"I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation, and to do it now," LaPierre said.
In a lengthy press conference, LaPierre blamed the media and video game industry for glorifying violence.
Close observers had expected the NRA to strike a more cooperative tone at the unusual press conference, as pressure is mounting in Washington for reform. President Barack Obama announced Wednesday he wants a concrete plan in front of Congress by next month. And pro-gun Democrats have softened in recent days.
"Because of all the noise and anger directed at us over the past week no one, nobody has addressed the most important pressing and immediate question we face, how do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works," LaPierre said. "Politicians pass laws for gun free school zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them and in doing so they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk."
LaPierre did not take any questions from the press.
The NRA had been in lockdown following the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and 6 adults dead.
Gun control advocates on Capitol Hill vowed to keep the issue front and center as news organizations continued to cover the victims' funerals in the small town.
The heightened pressure for lawmakers to act following the Connecticut Mass shooting could test the gun lobby's immense power inside the Beltway that has made gun control legislation virtually untouchable for the past 10 years.
The NRA's response to the mass shooting is at odds with what lawmakers have been pushing on Capitol Hill, urging the reintroduction of the assault rifle ban and legislation that would ban extended magazine clips.
Obama has tasked Vice President Joe Biden to lead a guns commission and report back by January.
Obama also responded to the more than 400,000 people who have signed a petitions on the White House's We the People website. In a web video Friday, Obama urged Americans to continue pushing to combat gun violence.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also put together a guns task force to be led by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), former co-chair of the congressional sportsmens caucus.
The group has also seen many of its allies -- including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Warner (Va.) and House members like Reps. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) have said they would now be open to gun control legislation.
Even Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a long-time supporter of the gun lobby, who has worked with them in the past, was noncommittal on Thursday about working with the NRA.
"I'm thinking about it," the Michigan Democrat said. "I'm trying to see how this thing will sort itself out."
The NRA's reaction to the shooting is in stark contrast to what it has typically done following shootings where it did little more than putting out a statement. The NRA isn't stopping with the press conference. LaPierre is scheduled to give his first interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.
Held at the historic Willard Hotel, the NRA kept a tight lid on security with at least a dozen guards, security sweep and multiple security guard check points before journalists could enter the room where the press conference was held. The event drew dozens of reporters, including high profile journalists like New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
Outside the press conference, more than 50 protesters. gathered outside the Willard Hotel. They held signs that read, "Teach kindness, not killing" and "NRA, are you here to apologize? The 'freedom' you sell is killing us."
CREDO Action touted a petition that organizers said had more than 222,000 signatures calling on the NRA to "stand down and stop blocking Congress and the President from passing gun control legislation."
Chanting "Shame on the NRA" and "stand down NRA," six protesters with CREDO Action attempted to enter the Willard hotel to deliver the petitions at the start of the press conference. But hotel staff prevented the protesters from entering the building.
And the group Avaaz called on companies like Wyndham Hotels, to sever ties with the NRA. Avaaz set up a bed on the street with logos of various companies and toy guns on it.
More than 20 members of PETA stood in a line in front of the Willard Hotel holding signs.
"The NRA should not have a seat at the table on the national conversation on gun control," Jeff Kerr, PETA's general counsel, told POLITICO. "We're encouraging the president and Congress not to give in to the bullying tactics of the NRA."
"Hunting is killing. It's killing for sport. It's killing for fun. It should have no place in our society," he added.
Eddie Weingart, 34, held a sign that said, "I am a victim of gun violence."
He said his mother was shot and killed with a shotgun by a disgruntled ex-husband. The man tried to kill Weingart too, he said, but the gun malfunctioned.
"Immediate action needs to be taken," Weingart said, adding that he believes gun control legislation stands a chance of moving forward in Washington because the Newtown shooting has "grabbed the American people."
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