OXON HILL, Md. >> The head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, leveled a searing indictment today against liberal Democrats, the news media and political opportunists he said were joined together in a socialist plot to “eradicate all individual freedoms.”
LaPierre’s remarks, his first since a gunman took the lives of 17 people at a Florida high school last week, seemed aimed at blunting the rising public pressure for stricter gun control. Conservatives, he said, needed to push back even as liberals tried to smear them.
“The shameful politicization of tragedy — it’s a classic strategy, right out of the playbook of a poisonous movement,” he said to a friendly but largely restrained crowd at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. “They hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom.”
The solution LaPierre offered was not to pass new laws but to better enforce the existing background check system and, he said, “harden our schools” with more armed guards.
LaPierre’s pugnacious appearance appeared to signal a tactical shift for the NRA, which had officially remained mostly quiet in the week after the Florida shooting, even as a movement of young people, including survivors of the massacre, made emotional pleas for gun control. The organization typically uses the first few days after an episode of mass gun violence to lie low before it comes out hard in opposition to any new gun control measures.
“The NRA will not only speak out,” he said, “we will speak out louder and we will speak out stronger than ever before.”
LaPierre, who for around three decades has been the NRA’s public face of unwavering resistance to tighter restrictions on guns, used his speech to play to the fear and mistrust that many on the right have toward government.
He raised the specter of mass gun confiscation. He accused federal agencies such as the Justice Department of weaponizing their power to punish political enemies. He warned darkly that “our country will be changed forever” at the hands of socialist conspirators.
“History proves it. Every time in every nation in which this political disease rises to power, its citizens are repressed, their freedoms are destroyed and their firearms are banned and confiscated,” he said, reading slowly and deliberately from his prepared text.