National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre reaffirmed the gun lobby's commitment to defending gun rights Friday in the wake of the slaughter of 21 people in a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
While extending his condolences to the families who lost loved ones in the shooting and acknowledging the "evil" that had been carried out by a gunman wielding a semi-automatic rifle, LaPierre reiterated the organization's argument that gun control is not the right answer.
TIMELINE OF TERROR: PIECING TOGETHER HOW UVALDE SCHOOL MASSACRE UNFOLDED
"Restricting the fundamental human right of law-abiding Americans to defend themselves is not the answer. It never has been," he declared at the NRA's Annual Leadership Forum in Houston on Friday. "As we gather, we know the eyes of the nation, the eyes of history, are upon us, and that's a good thing because every American deserves to know the truth about who we are and what we believe."
LaPierre decried the violence inflicted on the elementary school. He said NRA members are mourning the "21 beautiful lives ruthlessly and indiscriminately extinguished by a criminal monster."
"We're here with this community and all of America in prayer," he said. "These tragedies cause gut-wrenching, unimaginable pain that too many are being forced to go through right now. It's not right. It should never happen again. If we as a nation are capable of legislating evil out of the hearts and minds of criminals who commit these heinous acts, we would have done it a long time ago."
Top Democrats and activists are clamoring for increased gun control in response to the carnage in Uvalde. President Joe Biden chastised the NRA in a speech Tuesday, calling on people to "stand up to the gun lobby." LaPierre took note of his differences with the president during his address.
"We do not agree with President Biden on the Second Amendment, but we share common ground on this. Last week, the president said, 'I'm not naive. I know tragedy will come again. It cannot be forever overcome. It cannot be fully understood either, but there are certain things we can do.' NRA members know this to be true," LaPierre said, referencing remarks Biden gave following the recent deadly shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
"We must reject the idea that every time a law is broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It's time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions. And that's why we, the NRA, will never ever stop fighting for the rights of the innocent [and] the law abiding to defend themselves against the evil criminal element that plagues our society," he added.
LaPierre cited a number of policy prescriptions for the country to consider in lieu of bolstered gun control measures. This includes more robust security at schools, a stronger justice system that keeps hardened criminals off the streets, and more funding for police. LaPierre argued that over 1 million people in the United States use their gun rights to defend themselves and loved ones every year. The NRA has presented similar arguments in the past when mass shootings renewed national discussions about gun control.
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A flurry of activists gathered near the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, blasting the NRA for standing in the way of stricter gun laws as NRA members rallied in defense of gun rights at the forum. The proximity of the conference to the Robb Elementary School massacre prompted a handful of prominent politicians and celebrities to scrap appearances at the event.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott opted for a pre-recorded address to attendees so he could visit Uvalde officials and residents Friday. Former President Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) held tight in their plans to attend the conference, but others, such as Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Don McLean, and Lee Greenwood canned their appearances. The event is scheduled to take place from Friday through Sunday.