After a week of media silence following the school shooting in Florida, the National Rifle Association has gone on the offensive in its first public response to the massacre, pushing back against law enforcement officials, the media, gun-control advocates and calls for stricter gun laws made by the teenage survivors of the attack.
The gun rights group -- a powerful force in American politics -- used a series of statements, speeches and videos to try to blunt an emotionally charged wave of calls for new gun restrictions since a gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle killed 17 people at a South Florida high school. As the teens who escaped the bloodshed in Parkland, Florida, have passionately campaigned for new laws, it appears the politics suffusing the fraught issue of gun control are shifting, with President Donald Trump and someconservative lawmakers expressing a newfound willingness to consider at least modest measures.
While the NRA initially held back from the fray, that changed Wednesday and Thursday, as a spokeswoman debated survivors of the attack during a heated town hall and then Wayne LaPierre, the group's chief executive, forcefully decried gun-control advocates and the media for its coverage of the shooting.
"They don't care about our schoolchildren," LaPierre said near the start of the Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest annual gathering of American conservatives. "They want to make all of us less free."
LaPierre also restated his belief that more armed security would stop school shootings, echoing Trump, while calling on parents and local authorities to beef up security on campuses.
"Evil walks among us," LaPierre said. "And God help us if we don't harden our schools and protect our kids."
LaPierre's speech came on the heels of the NRA releasing a video claiming that "the mainstream media love mass shootings." This advertisement argued that members of the media benefit from covering mass shootings and use them "to juice their ratings and push their agenda."
In his own responses to the shooting, Trump has also criticized the FBI for fumbling the tip. Trump has also echoed the NRA in calling for more armed security at schools, and he has emphasized the idea of arming some teachers as a way to deter future attacks, an idea that was criticized by some law enforcement officers and the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers lobby. Trump has frequently responded to mass shootings by suggesting that more law-abiding citizens should be armed.
Trump also has publicly and privately floated actions that would be at odds with some positions of the NRA -- a group that heavily backed him during his campaign for the presidency -- including suggesting that the age for purchasing assault rifles be raised from 18 to 21.
"Legislative proposals that prevent law-abiding adults aged 18-20 years old from acquiring rifles and shotguns effectively prohibits them for purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their constitutional right to self-protection," Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the group, said in a statement.
The alleged shooter in south Florida had purchased at least 10 guns, all rifles and shotguns, including the AR-15 used in the massacre, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the probe. This official said that the shooter was able to purchase them legally and passed all background checks but was unable to purchase handguns because he was not yet 21.
In Florida, a day after high school students swamped the state capital to rally for more firearms restrictions, Republican lawmakers were expected to release legislative language late Thursday or early Friday with proposals responding to Parkland. The bills are expected to include at least one provision increasing in the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles to 21. Republican Sen. Bill Galvano, the next Senate president who has long supported the NRA's legislative priorities, is leading the effort in his body, and he said the NRA's opposition to raising the age limit was unlikely to defeat the bill.
"It doesn't complicate my efforts," he said on Thursday. "I think the desire to act and do something meaningful right now seems to be what's going to win the day."