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NRA's Wayne LaPierre makes it clear he isn't backing down on guns -- or the culture wars

Last Updated Feb 22, 2018 2:59 PM EST

National Rifle Association Executive Director and CEO Wayne LaPierre launched into criticisms of socialists, the FBI and the media Thursday, as he defended gun rights from the stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). His remarks came more than a week after the deadly school shooting in Florida that has sparked renewed calls for more stringent federal gun laws, and increased scrutiny on the NRA. 

But while LaPierre had plenty to say about protecting the Second Amendment and keeping schools armed to prevent further violence, he spent roughly as much time questioning the leadership of the FBI, vaguely lamenting a loss of "due process" in America, criticizing teaching in schools and perceived chill of free speech on college campuses, and generally decrying the "growing socialist state." LaPierre made it clear that the NRA is expanding its role beyond Second Amendment issues. 

"We share a goal of safe schools, safe neighborhoods and a safe country," LaPierre said. "As usual the opportunist wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain. Saul Alinsky would have been proud. The break back speed of calls for more gun control laws and the breathless national media eager to smear the NRA."

In the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, LaPierre criticized the failure of the FBI to follow up on a tip about the suspect, media coverage of shootings, and liberal critics who think gun control is the answer. 

"They don't care if their laws work or not," LaPierre said of critics. "They just want to get more laws to get more control over people. But the NRA, the NRA does care," LaPierre said on stage. 

LaPierre, calling schools "gun-free zones" that are easy targets for shooters, echoed what President Trump suggested the day before -- that schools be better armed and protected. LaPierre reiterated that there should be armed security in every school, questioning if Americans love their jewelry and money, in stores and banks with security guards, more than children. 

"Evil walks among us, and God help us if we don't harden our schools and protect our kids," LaPierre said.

LaPierre said criminals should not have access to a gun, and someone who shows warning signs of mental disturbance should show up in background checks. But LaPierre did not only stick to gun rights issues, launching into a tirade against the "rogue leadership" in the FBI, echoing frustrating with the FBI Mr. Trump and others have consistently criticized.

"What is hard to understand is why no one at the FBI stood up and called B.S. on its rogue leadership," LaPierre said. "Still, too much of today's Washington, no one speaks out. No one challenges authority."

But LaPierre's comments weren't necessarily the most fiery from the NRA at CPAC Thursday. Before LaPierre took the stage, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch said some in the media "love mass shootings."

"Many in legacy media love mass shootings," Loesch said on stage "Now I'm not saying that you love the tragedy. But I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold..."

Loesch, who launched into an angry tirade against the media, also said Democratic lawmakers, in addition to the media, are taking advantage of the shooting.

"They're exploiting a tragedy for an agenda. Shame on you. We call B.S.," she said.

As students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland demand action from lawmakers, the White House has signaled its openness to addressing fixes to current gun legislation like a ban on so called "bump stock" devices that make semi-automatic weapons operate similar to automatic ones and raising the legal minimum age to purchase a gun. President Trump on Wednesday floated the idea of increasing the minimum age for buying guns, which the NRA promptly shot down.

Shortly before LaPierre was slated to speak at CPAC, Mr. Trump tweeted his support for LaPierre and the NRA generally.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas last year, LaPierre faulted the Obama-era ATF for failing to "do their job" while speaking to CBS' "Face the Nation." 

"On bump stocks, let me say this, the fact is that the Obama administration a couple years ago legalized a device, their ATF, that fuzzed the line between semi-automatics and fully automatics. And if we're able to fuzz that line, all semi-automatics are at risk," said LaPierre.

He added, "If you fuzz the line, they're all at risk. And we're not going to let that happen."

While the White House continues to host listening sessions with communities affected by shootings, the NRA says it stands by its opposition to a ban of semi-automatic firearms and accessories and has since announced its opposition to the White House's age-limit proposal, saying in either case, the measures do not "prevent criminal activity and simply punishes the law-abiding for the criminal acts of others."

"The NRA supports efforts to prevent those who are in danger to themselves or others from getting access to firearms. At the same time, we will continue to oppose gun control measures that only serve to punish law-abiding citizens, these are not mutually exclusive or unachievable goals," the organization said in a statement on Wednesday.

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.