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NRA Response Comes Under Attack

Politicians Criticize Tone, Timing

BY JON LENDER, jlender@courant.com

The Hartford Courant

8:26 PM EST, December 21, 2012

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The National Rifle Association's response Friday to the Newtown school massacre — a proposal to post armed police officers in every school in the country — failed to impress many in Connecticut on a day when funerals were still being held for victims.

"Walking out of another funeral and was handed the NRA transcript. The most revolting, tone-deaf statement I've ever seen," Democratic U.S. Sen.-elect Chris Murphy tweeted early Friday afternoon, after reading comments by NRA's top lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre.

His Democratic colleague, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, chose different words for similar sentiments. "The NRA's statement is sadly and shamefully inadequate," he said. "The American people are demanding real change to make our nation safe, and the NRA's proposals fail to offer any real protection from violence. NRA members in Connecticut are writing and calling me to say that the NRA does not speak for them."

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre said at a news conference in Washington, D.C. He blamed "media conglomerates" for producing video games, music videos and movies that expose children to violence and "an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty [in] our homes."

It wasn't just Democrats who called the LaPierre's message unwelcome, but also one of the state legislature's leading Republicans — Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield. His district includes Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle to kill 20 first-graders and six adults on Dec. 14.

"I think his words were ill-timed when a community is still in the process laying to rest the people who have been lost, and the roads are filled with people coming and going from the churches and synagogues and funerals," McKinney said.

"I also don't think his idea of undoing or repealing gun-free school zones is a good idea at all," McKinney said. "I, for one, don't believe in the notion that only way to protect yourself from a bad person with a gun is to have more good people with guns. I've always understood, and believe, that our Second Amendment is an integral part of our Constitution, and people should have the right to bear arms … but I think we should have a fair conversation in this country about what the limits to those rights are."

Gun rights are not absolute, just as free speech rights also are not, McKinney said – adding, "you can't run into a theater and scream, 'Fire!'"

Republican State Rep. Tony Guglielmo, however, said armed guards at schools might be a start.

"I don't think it's a bad idea, actually," said Guglielmo, a Stafford Republican whose district includes rural areas where many own guns and hunt. "If people are looking for an immediate and effective response" to danger at schools, an armed police officer might be a good answer – although not the only answer, Guglielmo said.

Guglielmo said a "multifaceted" approach is needed for a difficult problem" is needed. This includes addressing school security, the culture of violence, protectingSecond Amendment rights and dealing with the mentally ill people.

Guglielmo said there's nothing crazy about the NRA proposal, unlike some critics were saying Friday, "although it would be expensive – I'll grant them that." But he said armed police are already in many schools attended by older children, and it hasn't been a problem. Smaller children "won't be intimidated" by police, he said, noting that his grandchildren and their schoolmates view police "as a friend."

Another who was at least willing to give LaPierre and the NRA credit was Tracy L. Tamborra, assistant professor in the University of New Haven's Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences.

"It doesn't strike me as insane," she said. "They actually made a strong argument. … I don't think their reasoning is specious" – that gun-wielding attackers would be less likely to prey on schools if they know they'll be met by others with guns.

Tamborra also said the homicide rate in this country has "plummeted" since 1993, from 9.5 per 100,000 population down to 4.7 per 100,000 in 2011. So the argument can be made that as American society becomes more armed, it is less violent, since most slayings are committed with guns.

"As a criminologist, as a citizen and as a mother I am saddened that [armed guards at schools] is the option presented to us," Tamborra said. Although the NRA "made a good point" that banks and other public facilities are guarded by armed personnel, she said "there is something philosophically problematic about the need to have guns in our schools to protect children. I just don't think that is the direction for a country that is also a world leader for human rights and peace."

Meanwhile Friday, Tom Moore, assistant superintendent for administration for West Hartford schools, promised that his district "won't be taking our advice on how to keep kids safe from the president of the NRA.

"That's my comment as a school official," he added. "As a father of two kids in schools: I come from a family of hunters; I have four brothers who are hunters and members of the NRA. All I'll be asking for for Christmas, after hearing Wayne LaPierre essentially blame school officials for the shootings, is for [my brothers] to resign from the NRA," Moore said.

In Newtown, local residents appeared weary of the constant media presence over the past week. Several residents in the Big Y shopping plaza off Church Street refused to comment on the NRA's news conference Friday and the suggestion that all schools need armed guards.

Newtown United, a group of town residents who have organized to try to stop gun violence across the U.S., said its position remains the same. "Newtown United stands with the children, the families, the teachers and the community touched by the massacre of innocent lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School,'' the group said in a statement. "We are united with the country to drive national efforts to turn the tide on gun violence. We are dedicated to ensuring that the senseless act of violence that occurred in Newtown is never repeated."

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, was on a plane to Connecticut when the NRA held its news conference. When he landed, he read the speech. "I was shocked," Courtney said. "I was really expecting more from him."

While some people do support more widespread usage of guns, Courtney says he's heard from a number of people who understand that there need to be changes to the country's gun laws.

Courtney says government has the right to impose rules in certain situations. High-capacity ammunition shouldn't be readily available, and people should have to register guns and have background checks when buying a gun, he said, explaining that guns shouldn't be available to purchase online.

Courtney, who is a member of the education and the workforce committee, said he has already talked to the committee chairman and has requested that the committee hold hearings on school safety issues. The committee did that after the Virginia Tech tragedy, he said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's director of communications, Andrew Doba, said: "Like many other people across the state and nation, the Governor is mourning the lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School just a week ago today. There will no doubt be a substantive policy discussion in the days and months ahead, but right now his primary concern is for the families affected by this unimaginable tragedy."

Courant Staff Writers Amanda Falcone, Julie Stagis, Matthew Conyers, Jesse Leavenworth and Matthew Kauffman contributed to this story.