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Obama vs NRA: Heated gun debate erupts in US

Published time: December 24, 2012 00:41
Edited time: December 24, 2012 19:00
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Mandel Ngan)

US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Mandel Ngan)

The battle over American gun violence has intensified with the National Rifle Association's vow to fight legislative steps to increase gun control. It challenges President Obama’s call for proposals on curbing the country's mass shooting problem.

­On Sunday, the National Rifle Association sparked a blaze of criticism when it announced its plans for “meaningful contributions” to US gun control. The hugely powerful gun lobby's proposal placed the blame on the media, the criminal world, popular culture and virtually any national factor other than arms manufacturers and distributors.

During NBC's Meet the Press, Wayne LaPierre, the vice president of the NRA, openly said that his association would fight the task force established by US President Barack Obama to examine ways to reduce gun violence in the country. LaPierre did not back down from his comments Friday, when the NRA first spoke following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that killed 26.

Mocking proponents of gun control, LaPierre said, "Look, a gun is a tool. The problem is the criminal," seemingly ignoring questions of how American criminals gain access to lethal weapons.

To stop public massacres, LaPierre proposed placing armed guards in all schools – ironically leaving out the fact that Columbine High School, the site of the other-most-famous school shooting in American history, employed such guards – and offered to support the creation of an emergency response plan that would use volunteers drawn from the organization’s 4.3 million members to help guard children under attack. He also asked Congress to allocate funds for such measures.

Following the proposal cyberspace exploded with criticism, recalling the events of the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999, which left 12 students and one teacher dead and 21 students injured. The armed guards on duty failed to protect students as two seniors at the school went on a shooting rampage that ended in their own suicides.

The NRA head went on to attack the culture of violence in US, which he contended was promoted chiefly by the entertainment industry. LaPierre also said that his group will oppose any new gun restrictions – including on semi-automatic weapons – on Capitol Hill.

In a moment of striking clarity, LaPierre said NRA officials "have been willing to deal with every possible cause of gun violence, except guns." He pondered, "What's the influence of violence in our entertainment culture on people?“, adding that the country's existing laws are not being enforced. “You want one more law on top of 20,000 laws, when most of the federal gun laws, we don't even enforce."


National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre (AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards)
National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre (AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards)

The lobby boss's verbal assault on gun control continued, as LaPierre said that if Obama's review is "just going to be made up of a bunch of people that, for the last twenty years, have been trying to destroy the Second Amendment, I'm not interested in sitting on that panel.”

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution, adopted at the end of 1791, states that, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." At the time of its writing, the most sophisticated type of gun was a musket – a rifle capable of firing a large metal ball accurately for up to 75 meters.

A central argument in American "gun rights" discussions is whether the amendment allows US citizens to freely carry military-grade assault weapons, such as the one used by gunman Adam Lanza at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Following the massacre there on December 14, which left 26 people killed, mostly children, President Obama vowed to make gun control a pillar issue of his second term.

Obama demanded proposals – including from the NRA – on solutions to the country's rampant gun violence, which he would then take to Congress in January. He also requested that Congress restore an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. Obama says he wants to ban a provision that permits individuals to buy weapons from private dealers without undergoing a criminal background check. The US leader also signaled that he wants Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity magazines.

Former congressman Asa Hutchinson, who has now been appointed to lead the NRA's initiative to place volunteer gunmen in schools, says that the gun lobby’s proposal is a logical step, comparing it to the federal air marshal program, which places armed law enforcement agents on flights.

"Are our children less important to protect than our air transportation? I don't think so," he said, adding that schools should not be required to use armed security and that law enforcement should have the final say on how the security is put into place.

The Internet community howled in cynical cyber-laughter at the NRA’s “meaningful contribution” proposals, announced on Friday and repeated on Sunday.

Summing up the thoughts of many commenters, Adama @ar_stp tweeted, “An organization funded by gun manufacturers and dealers suggesting we buy and use more guns? Did anyone expect anything different?”

Russell Anderson, a member of the devastated Newtown community, also put the hammer down on LaPiere’s bizarre proposal, saying in his Twitter feed (@RussFAnderson), “As a Newtowner, I think I'm also in a unique position to say that having armed, low-paid guards in schools scares me more, not less.”

Some even went straight for the NRA chief himself, with @JohnFugelsang tweeting, “Wayne #LaPierre is proof of what happens when we allow the mentally ill to own guns.”

Politicians were also critical of the NRA plan, with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg saying that the organization “offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America,” the New York Daily News reports.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer called LaPierre "so extreme and so tone deaf that he actually helps the cause of us passing sensible gun legislation in the Congress. Look – he blames everything but guns: movies, the media, President Obama, gun-free school zones. You name it, and the video games – he blames them."

The National Rifle Association of America is often referred to as America's most powerful political lobby group. It bills itself as an advocate for the protection of the Second Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights by means of the promotion of firearm ownership.