LaPierre's words are likely to set off a national debate over two starkly different views about curbing gun violence. On one side stand those like the NRA head, who believe that arming more citizens is the answer; on the other, gun-control advocates pressing for tighter restrictions on firearms.
LaPierre was interrupted twice during his remarks by gun-control protesters; one held up a sign that read: "NRA Killing Our Kids."
"Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones, they issue press releases bragging about them ... in doing so they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk," said LaPierre, head of the nation’s largest gun rights group.
The remarks came after a week of near-silence from the NRA following the mass shooting last Friday in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school. The group’s social media accounts went dark, and it issued just one public statement, saying its members were “shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders.”
LaPierre said that if the Newtown school had armed officers on site, lives might have been spared.
"Will you at least admit it is possible that 26 little kids — that 26 innocent lives might have been spared that day?" he asked.
LaPierre announced that the NRA will develop a "model national schools shield emergency response program" that will be led by former Arkansas congressman Asa Hutchinson, who served as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration under President George W. Bush.
"From armed security to building design and access control, to information technology, to student and teacher training, this multifaceted program will be developed by the very best experts in the field," LaPierre said of the effort.
LaPierre's comments come at the end of a week in which gun control advocates stepped up their push for tighter regulations on firearms and President Obama began a new effort to reduce gun violence. Obama launched an interagency task force led by Vice President Biden and has called for Congress to take action to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Sunday that she will soon introduce a federal ban on assault weapons.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, a handful of Democratic senators who have received high marks from the NRA signaled an openness this week to new regulations on guns, marking a change in their positions in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
On Friday morning, Obama released a Web video urging the public to assist in the push for new regulations. “I’m asking for your help … to make sure the United States of America is a safer, stronger place for our children to learn and to grow,” Obama said. Petitions on the White House Web site aimed at pressing the administration to take action on gun control have attracted hundreds of thousands of signatures.
LaPierre was critical Friday of those he said "have tried to exploit the tragedy for political gain." The NRA, he said, "remained respectably silent" in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. He also offered a broader cultural criticism, decrying violent video games and films.
"There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like 'Bullet Storm,' 'Grand Theft Auto,' 'Mortal Combat,' and 'Splatterhouse,' " he said.
For the first time since 2007, significantly more people strongly favor than strongly oppose stricter gun laws, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week. Overall, though, the poll showed that the percentages of Americans supporting stricter gun laws is on par with previous surveys.
The head of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a group advocating for gun control, called Friday on NRA members to join the effort to reduce gun violence.
"To all NRA members who believe like we do, that we are better than this, we send this message …Join us. Join us in making sure the gun violence ends now. We are all Americans and we all agree we are better than this," said Brady Campaign President Daniel Gross.