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Just about a week after the deadly shooting at a Florida high school, the National Rifle Association’s vice president Wayne LaPierre delivered the group’s response: more armed guards in schools.
"Our banks, our airports, our NBA games, our NFL games, our office buildings, our movie stars, our politicians — they are all more protected than our children at school," Lapierre said at the Conservative Political Action Committee Feb. 22. "To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun."
LaPierre had barely stepped down from the stage when the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety tweeted this blast from LaPierre’s past.
The group quoted LaPierre as saying in 1999, "We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools.That means no guns in America’s schools. Period."
There are a few angles to consider here.
Did LaPierre say those words?
Yes, he did. It was May 1, 1999, 10 days after two teenage boys killed 13 people, wounded more than 20 others and then committed suicide at Columbine High School in Colorado. LaPierre spoke at the NRA’s annual convention and called for a policy banning guns from school.
But LaPierre said more than what the Everytown group quoted.
He was talking about guns brought to school by students, not teachers or trained security.
"Of the 6,000 young people the president acknowledges were caught with a gun at school during the past two years, we believe all of them should have been prosecuted," LaPierre said. "But the truth is only five were prosecuted in 1997. And just eight were prosecuted in 1988. That's not zero tolerance."
LaPierre made a passing reference to armed guards in schools, referring to "the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel." As for arming teachers, something President Donald Trump has shown a keen interest in, LaPierre said nothing.
In his 1999 speech, his emphasis was on what adults should do to keep weapons out of the hands of teens. LaPierre said the NRA held adults responsible.
"Just as every kid should have a guardian who knows where he is and keeps him safe, every firearm should have a guardian who knows where it is and keeps it safely stored," LaPierre said.
Columbine horrified the nation in its scale and the cold-blooded method of the high school seniors who had spent a year planning their attack. The Senate passed a bill to strengthen background checks, but it died in the House. The slaughter prompted more discussion of early identification of loners, and more emphasis on school security. Keeping weapons out of the hands of minors gained more attention.
The 2012 shootings in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 26 elementary students and one of their teachers was the signature event when LaPierre spoke forcefully about a good guy with a gun being the best response to a bad guy with a gun.
His rhetoric in 2012 was the same as when he spoke in 2018.
"American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses, even sports stadiums are all protected by armed security," LaPierre said at a news conference Dec. 21, 2012. "Yet, when it comes to our most beloved, innocent, and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless."
In 2012, LaPierre called on Congress to immediately "appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation."
Everytown for Gun Safety tweeted the reminder that nearly two decades ago, LaPierre said, "We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools. Period."
The quotation is accurate, but it takes LaPierre’s words out of context.
His full message was that adults should keep weapons out of the hands of minors and that schools and localities should act swiftly to punish any student caught bringing a firearm to school.
In 1999, LaPierre also left open the door for armed security on school grounds, but that was not the focus of the policy debate at the time. That option has since risen on the NRA’s agenda.
The Everytown tweet has a measure of truth, but it leaves out important context that changes the meaning behind LaPierre’s words.
We rate this claim Half True.
Everytown for Gun Safety, tweet, Feb. 22, 2018
C-SPAN, National Rifle Association Convention, May 1, 1999
C-SPAN, Conservative Political Action Conference, Wayne LaPierre Remarks, Feb. 22, 2018
Washington Post, Remarks from the NRA press conference on Sandy Hook school shooting, delivered on Dec. 21, 2012 (Transcript), Dec. 21, 2012
Rolling Stone, The NRA vs. America, Jan. 31, 2013
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