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Oliver North, incoming NRA chief, blames school shootings on ‘culture of violence’

Gun rights and gun control advocates lobbied for their solutions to mass shootings on May 20, two days after the devastating attack at Santa Fe High School. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Two days after a 17-year-old opened fire in his Texas high school, killing at least 10, incoming National Rifle Association president Oliver North said students “shouldn’t have to be afraid” to go to school and blamed the problem on “youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence” in which many young boys have “been on Ritalin” since early childhood.

“They’ve been drugged in many cases,” he said.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” the retired Marine, best known for his role in the Iran-contra scandal in the 1980s, said, “You are not going to fix it by taking away the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Instead, he said, schools should look at fortifying their campuses, considering ingress and egress points and people’s ability to enter buildings carrying weapons.

“If School Shield had been in place, [it’s] far less likely that would have happened,” North said, referring to an NRA program that was introduced in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and addresses best practices in security infrastructure, technology, personnel, training and policy.

There was a risk, North said, in “treating symptom without treating the disease.” And the disease, he said, isn’t the Second Amendment.

Santa Fe High School was considered a hardened target, with an active-shooter plan and two armed police officers on patrol. In the fall, school district leaders made plans to eventually arm teachers and staff under the state’s school marshal program.

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) spoke at a vigil held for the Santa Fe High School shooting victims on May 18. (Video: Whitney Leaming, Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)

North, 74, is a high-profile choice to lead the NRA, which has faced mounting criticism since the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which a gunman killed 17 people.

North, who previously appeared to criticize student activists who have been pushing for gun control, said today that they “are being used by forces far bigger than they are,” including former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and financier and philanthropist George Soros.

“I was not criticizing those kids,” said North, who has said that the NRA was the victim of “civil terrorism.”

Texas Lt Gov. Dan Patrick (R) blamed the social acceptance of abortion and violent video games for the epidemic of school gun violence.

“Should we be surprised in this nation? We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families or violent movies, and particularly violent video games, which now outsell movies and music,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that students are desensitized to violence. Many have lost empathy to their victims by watching hours and hours of video, violent games,” he said.

Patrick also pointed to the bullying between adults and children on social media platforms. “We have to look at ourselves,” he continued. “It’s not about the guns; it’s about us.”

When asked about gun regulation, he said the responsibility starts at home and suggested that a crime may have been committed if the shooter in Santa Fe was able to take possession of his father’s firearms. “Gun control starts at home — accountability for gun owners,” he said. “We need the best background checks we have. We need to be very sensible about this.”

Santa Fe High School was moving forward with a plan to arm teachers, which is legal under Texas law, at the time of the shooting. Patrick said he had talked to students who said the shooting might have been stopped if one of the teachers, a former Marine, had been carrying a gun. A school resource officer and a school district police chief had engaged the shooter.

He also suggested staggering start times at schools so that students could be funneled through just one or two entrances, a move that could allow law enforcement to more easily detect weapons.

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“We cannot sit back and say it’s the gun,” Patrick said. “It’s us as a nation.”

At one point during the interview, ABC host George Stephanopoulos noted that violent video games are played by teenagers all over the world but that the United States, which has far more guns in circulation, was unique in its high rate of school gun violence.

“I can’t compare one country with another country, because there are many variables in all these countries,” Patrick said. “Here’s what I know: We live in a violent culture that devalues life. Kids go to schools that are not as safe as government buildings.”

Patrick was followed by the parents of victims of gun violence, who weighed in on his suggestions.

“I think those are the most idiotic comments I have ever heard regarding gun safety,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, 14, was killed in the February shooting in Parkland. “He should be removed from office.”

On “Meet the Press,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took aim at the NRA on the issue of why Congress has not addressed gun violence.

“It’s a three-letter word,” Sanders said. “It’s the NRA, and it’s Trump and the Republicans who don’t have the guts to stand up to these people.”

North was followed on “Fox News Sunday” by retired NASA astronaut and gun-control activist Mark Kelly, whose wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was critically injured in a 2011 attack in Tucson in which six people were killed.

Kelly agreed that schools had to offer students better protections but said more had to be done to prevent the proliferation of guns and to make sure that irresponsible people and criminals “can’t get the gun in the first place.”

“There are things that work,” said Kelly, who described himself as a hunter who keeps his guns locked in a safe and advocated legislation that requires parents to safely store firearms.

Kelly, who said he owns eight guns, co-founded the Giffords organization with a mission “to encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership.”

The student gun-control activists who have spoken out since the Parkland shooting, he said, are “motivated, smart, articulate and angry.” And, he continued, they have “a right to be angry.”

The problem, Kelly said, is “not because we don’t have enough guns.”

If that were the issue, the United States would be the safest country in the world, Kelly said,

North said his goal as president of the NRA is to increase membership of the 6 million-strong organization by 1 million and then to ask every member to recruit one more, to form a 14 million-member group who can be “activists on the street.”

In a tweet at the time of North’s election, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch called North a “total warrior for freedom” and “the last person that anti-gun advocates would want as the new President of the NRA board.”