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NRA backs Trump’s call for arming teachers: ‘Schools must be the most hardened targets’

The CEO of the NRA gave a full-bore defense of gun rights at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, calling for weapons in schools in response to a mass shooting in Florida last week. Meanwhile, Republicans in that state like Sen. Marco Rubio face new pressure in the gun control debate, as evidenced by a tense televised town hall on Wednesday night. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Call and response. The pressure to stop school shootings prompted new statements today from the president and from the gun rights lobby.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

  • Wayne Lapierre:

    To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • William Brangham:

    Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, gave a full-bore defense of gun rights today, and a call to put weapons in schools.

  • Wayne Lapierre:

    Every day, young children are being dropped off at schools that are virtually wide-open, soft targets for anyone bent on mass murder. Schools must be the most hardened targets in this country.

  • William Brangham:

    LaPierre addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, near Washington, and he accused gun control advocates of exploiting the killings in Florida.

  • Wayne Lapierre:

    Their solution is to make you, all of you, less free. They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of family, the failure of America's mental health system, and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI.

  • William Brangham:

    The NRA's spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, was also at CPAC. She directed her criticism at the media.

  • Dana Loesch:

    Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Dana Loesch:

    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.

  • William Brangham:

    President Trump today tweeted his support for the NRA, calling its leaders great people and great American patriots.

    And at a White House listening session with state and local officials, he talked again of arming teachers.

  • President Donald Trump:

    A gun-free zone to a killer or somebody that wants to be a killer, that's like going in for the ice cream.

  • William Brangham:

    The president said it should be teachers with military experience or specialized training:

  • President Donald Trump:

    If they have the aptitude, I think a concealed permit for having teachers, and letting people know there are people in the building with a gun, you won't have — in my opinion, you won't have these shootings, because these people are cowards.

  • William Brangham:

    Mr. Trump went on to lay out other ideas he said he now supports.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're going to do strong background checks. We're going to work on getting the age up to 21, instead of 18. We're getting rid of the bump stocks. And we're going to be focusing very strongly on mental health.

  • William Brangham:

    The NRA has opposed raising the age limit for buying any rifles, including the AR-15, which was used in the Florida shootings. But the president predicted he will bring them around.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I don't think I will be going up against them. I really think the NRA wants to do what is right.

  • William Brangham:

    The president has already asked the Justice Department to work on banning those bump stock devices, like the ones used in last year's massacre in Las Vegas. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said today it is still reviewing whether it can actually regulate bump stocks without congressional approval.

    Meanwhile, Republicans in are facing new pressure, as evidenced by last night's CNN town hall event in Florida. Senator Marco Rubio was the only Republican lawmaker to take part, and he faced a barrage of questions, with some students pointedly challenging him.

  • Cameron Kasky:

    Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Sen. Marco Rubio:

    The answer to the question is that people buy into my agenda. And I do support the Second Amendment. And I also support the right of you and everyone here to be able to go to school and be safe.

    The influence of these groups comes not from money. The influence comes from the millions of people that agree with the agenda.

  • William Brangham:

    Rubio has long been a vocal advocate for gun rights, but last night he conceded he's rethinking some of his past positions.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio:

    I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip size, and after this and some of the details I have learned about it, I'm reconsidering that position. I do believe that in this instance, it didn't prevent — it wouldn't have prevented the attack, but it made it less lethal.

  • William Brangham:

    The town hall came after an outpouring of student protests in Tallahassee and across the country.

    Today, former President Obama praised the activists. He tweeted "Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe."

    Back in Florida, the latest funeral, this one for Aaron Feis, the football coach at Douglas High School. He was among the 17 murdered there eight days ago.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Late today, we learned that the armed deputy assigned to Douglas High School has resigned. The sheriff says the officer never went into the building during the shootings. We will hear a new set of student voices in the gun debate after the news summary.

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