After NRA speaks out, gun debate heats up

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Last week's massacre in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman wielding an AR-15 assault rifle killed 27 people, including 20 children, spurred a national debate about gun violence that hit the Sunday shows today.

Politicians and activists across the ideological spectrum agreed that we must do something, but precious little agreement emerged on what specific policy steps should be taken.

The National Rifle Association, on the heels of Friday's press conference at which NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre called for armed guards in schools but refused to acknowledge any role gun laws may play in gun violence, doubled down on that defiant message Sunday. NRA President David Keene told CBS's "Face the Nation" that his organization will continue to oppose a ban on assault weapons used for "perfectly legitimate purposes." Noting that the previous assault weapons ban "was allowed to expire," Keene argued that "The FBI, the Justice Department, and others who studied it said it made no difference."

Keene, when asked if NRA policies had contributed in the slightest to the massacre in Newtown, gave not an inch: "We don't think they have."

LaPierre echoed Keene's defiance on NBC's "Meet the Press", saying of a proposal to limit the size of ammunition magazines, "It doesn't work, and we're not going to support it."

LaPierre also pushed back on suggestions that the massacre in Newtown had sapped the NRA of any clout on Capitol Hill. "The American people, I know one thing about them, they value their freedom," LaPierre said. "When the reality of the consequences of what politicians in this town and the media and the elites want to do to their Second Amendment rights and take them away, I think they'll do what they've done historically, they'll defend the freedom."

"Our support is always the American people, decade in and decade out," explained LaPierre, saying his organization works not for the "rich and famous," but for "the average guy...and the average guy in this country values his freedom, doesn't believe the fact he can own a gun is part of the problem."

Former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., who has been tasked with leading the NRA's "school shield" initiative, appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" and called more gun control laws "the wrong debate," adding, "I want to look for solutions for safety in schools, and that's not the solution." Hutchinson said that his solution, putting an armed guard in every school, could cost more than $2 billion.

Current Republican officeholders were less strident in their opposition to new gun laws, with several taking a wait-and-see approach but signaling that the solution may not be as simple as restricting access to firearms.

Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., just appointed to replace retiring Sen. Jim DeMint, said on "Face the Nation" that both the NRA's proposal to arm schools and proposals to strengthen gun control were "a bit premature," asking for policymakers to wait for the results of President Obama's new gun violence commission before rushing to judgment. "I think the president has just established a committee to take a serious, holistic look at what we need to do as a nation to make sure that our kids are safe," said Scott. "I think after we have the committee's report, we should take a very serious look at whatever it takes to keep our kids safe at school...understanding what happened and why - after we have those answers, we'll be in a much better position to decide the path forward."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., questioned how effectual Congress can be in reducing gun violence, saying on "Meet the Press", "I don't know if there's anything Lindsey Graham can do in the Senate to stop mass murder from somebody that's hell-bent on doing crazy things." Referring to a 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, Graham argued that, at the time, "we had an armed guard in Columbine, we had an assault ban, neither of them worked."

While unsure of what Congress should do to reduce gun violence, Graham was perfectly sure of what they should not do: "I'm going to stand against another assault ban because it didn't work before and it won't work in the future."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tex., evinced greater flexibility on "Face the Nation", saying that she doesn't "object to having more armed policemen in schools," and that restrictions on the size of ammunition clips "need to be looked at."

But Hutchison said those proposals are "part of a big picture," adding that we need to examine violence in our culture - film, television, video games - as we reflect on the lessons of Newtown.

Democrats, for their part, voiced strong support for more gun control and seized the opportunity to bludgeon the gun lobby. Appearing on "Meet the Press", Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., blasted the NRA for a "tone-deaf" response to Newtown that is "turning people off," including those who ostensibly support the NRA's mission. LaPierre's call for armed guards in schools was "so extreme and so tone deaf that he actually helps the cause of us passing sensible gun legislation in the Congress," said Schumer. "Trying to prevent shootings in schools without talking about guns is like trying to prevent lung cancer without talking about cigarettes. He is so doctrinaire and so adamant that I believe gun owners turn against him as well."

And Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who noted that he was "proud" of his "A" rating from the NRA, said on "Face the Nation" that any suggestion that "existing gun laws are enough, the status quo is acceptable, just didn't pass my gut check." Warner took issue with the NRA's proposal to have armed guards protect schools, asking, "Where do we stop? Are we going to go into preschools? Are we going to go into parochial schools?" Warner further noted that "there actually was an armed individual at Columbine years ago, and it didn't prevent that tragedy."

Warner argued that "we need a comprehensive approach" to reduce gun violence, saying that one potential solution - limiting the size of ammunition clips - does "not seem to be a an undue infringement."

Above all else, Warner said, we must seize the moment. "What I hope and pray is that, as we get into the Christmas season and the memories of this tragedy fade, we don't let this issue recede until six, eight, nine months, and we see another tragedy."