The National Rifle Association spoke publicly on Friday for the first time since last week's elementary school massacre in Connecticut, calling for armed police officers in every American school because the nation's children have been left "utterly defenseless."
Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, said at a briefing in Washington that banks, politicians, airports, courthouses and sports stadiums are all protected by armed security.
"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," LaPierre said.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said.
LaPierre pondered what would have happened if 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza had "been confronted by qualified armed security."
"How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark," LaPierre said. "A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?"
While there is a federally maintained database of the mentally ill — people so declared by their states — a 1997 Supreme Court ruling that states can't be required to contribute information has left significant gaps. In any case, creation of a mandatory national database probably would have had little impact on the ability of suspected shooters in four mass shootings since 2011 to get and use powerful weapons. The other people accused either stole the weapons used in the attacks or had not been ruled by courts to be "mentally defective" before the shootings.
Friday's briefing was disrupted for a moment by a protester holding a sign that said "NRA Killing Our Kids." Later, another protester shouted "ban assault weapons now" as she was dragged out of the room.
LaPierre announced that former Rep. Asa Hutchison, R-Ark., will lead an NRA program that will develop a model security plan for schools that relies on armed volunteers.
The proposal received mixed reactions from parents and administrators nationwide, and in Newtown, several residents said they supported the idea.
"I agree -- to stop a bad guy with a gun you're gonna need a good guy with a gun," said Abbey Fedigan, whose young cousins are students at Sandy Hook Elementary and were inside during the deadly rampage.
At least one local school district says it plans to have armed officers by January -- Marlboro, N.J. Mayor Jon Hornik said all township schools will have the guards.
Gov. Chris Christie said Friday that posting guards at school won't make classrooms safer. For such a plan to be effective, he said, officers would have to be outside every classroom, because there are many ways to enter a school.
"You can't make this an armed camp for kids," he said.
Superintendent Hank Grishman of the Jericho, N.Y., school district on Long Island said he is outraged by the concept. He said putting more guns in schools won't make children safer, and could even put them in the line of more gunfire.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the idea was "irresponsible and dangerous."
"Schools must be safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses," she said.
School safety expert Ken Trump says it may prove difficult on a large scale to ensure that any armed security officer placed in a school is qualified and trained not just to operate a weapon but to work with children.
The Department of Education has counted 98,817 public schools in the United States and an additional 33,366 private schools.
There already are an estimated 10,000 school resource officers, most of them armed and employed by local police departments, in the nation's schools, according to Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.
The 4.3 million-member NRA largely disappeared from public debate after the shooting in Newtown, choosing atypical silence as a strategy as the nation sought answers after the rampage. The NRA took down its Facebook page and kept silent on Twitter.
Unlike its actions in the wake of other mass shootings, the group did not put out a statement of condolence for the victims while simultaneously defending the rights of gun owners.
In the lead-up to its news conference Friday, the NRA re-activated its Facebook account — it has 1.7 million members — and its Twitter feed now warns supporters that "President Obama supports gun control measures, including reinstating an assault weapons ban." The group also announced that its top lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre, planned to appear Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
Since the slayings, President Barack Obama has demanded "real action, right now" against U.S. gun violence and called on the NRA to join the effort. Moving quickly after several congressional gun-rights supporters said they would consider new legislation to control firearms, the president said this week he wants proposals to reduce gun violence that he can take to Congress by January.
Obama has already asked Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and pass legislation that would stop people from purchasing firearms from private sellers without a background check. Obama also has indicated he wants Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity magazines.
Marc Santia and Brian Thompson contributed to this story
Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York