The National Rifle Association's security guards gained notoriety earlier this year when, escorting NRA officials to a hearing, they were upbraided by Capitol authorities for pushing cameramen. The thugs were back Tuesday when the NRA rolled out its "National School Shield" -- the gun lobbyists' plan to get armed guards in public schools -- and this time they were packing heat.
About 20 of them -- roughly one for every three reporters -- fanned out through the National Press Club, some in uniforms with gun holsters exposed, others with earpieces and bulges under their suit jackets.
In a spectacle that officials at the National Press Club said they had never seen before, the NRA gunmen directed some photographers not to take pictures, ordered reporters out of the lobby when NRA officials passed and inspected reporters' briefcases before granting them access to the news conference.
The antics gave new meaning to the notion of disarming your critics.
By journalistic custom and D.C. law, of course, reporters don't carry guns to news conferences -- and certainly not when the person at the lectern is the NRA's Asa Hutchinson, an unremarkable former congressman and Bush administration official whom most reporters couldn't pick out of a lineup. But the NRA wasn't going to leave any doubt about its superior firepower.
Thus has it gone so far in the gun debate in Washington. The legislation is about to be taken up in Congress, but by most accounts the NRA has already won. Plans for limiting assault weapons and ammunition clips are history, and the prospects for meaningful background checks are bleak. Now, The Washington Post's Philip Rucker and Ed O'Keefe report, the NRA is proposing language to gut the last meaningful gun-control proposal, making gun trafficking a federal crime. Apparently, the gun lobby thinks even criminals deserve Second Amendment protection.
If the NRA has its way, as it usually does, states will weaken their gun laws to allow more guns in schools. The top two recommendations Hutchinson announced Tuesday involved firearms in the schoolhouse. The first: "training programs" for "designated armed school personnel." The second: "adoption of model legislation by individual states to allow for armed school personnel."
Hutchinson claimed that his task force, which came up with these ideas, had "full independence" from the NRA. By coincidence, the proposals closely matched those announced by the NRA before it formed and funded the task force. The task force did scale back plans to protect schools with armed volunteer vigilantes, opting instead for arming paid guards and school staff -- at least one in every school. States and school districts "are prepared" to pay for it, Hutchinson declared.
The task force garnished the more-guns recommendations with some good ideas, such as better fencing, doors and security monitoring for schools, and more mental-health intervention. But much of that is in the overall Senate legislation that the NRA is trying to kill.
To close his case, Hutchinson introduced a secret weapon, "special guest" Mark Mattioli, the father of one of the Newtown, Conn., victims. Mattioli told reporters that there had been "nine school shootings since Newtown" but that Newtown was "off the bell curve, if you will, with respect to the impact."
Perhaps that's because the Newtown killer had a military-style gun with a 30-round magazine?
Hutchinson, queried by a reporter from Connecticut, said that limiting assault weapons is "totally inadequate" because it "doesn't stop violence in the schools." Likewise, he told CBS News' Nancy Cordes, limiting magazine clips won't work as well as his plan to "give the schools more tools" -- i.e., guns. And he told CNN's Jim Acosta that background checks weren't related to his focus of school safety.
Fox News' Chad Pergram mentioned the gun-control legislation. "Do you see any common ground?" he asked.
"This will be the common ground," Hutchinson said of his proposals.
If so, American schoolchildren may grow accustomed to the sort of scene Hutchinson caused Tuesday, protected by more armed guards than a Third World dictator.
Hutchinson, pressed by reporters about the armed goons, said: "You go into a mall, there is security. And so there is security here at the National Press Club."
A reporter asked Hutchinson what he was afraid of.
"There's nothing I'm afraid of. I'm very wide open," Hutchinson replied, separated from his unarmed questioners by an eight-foot buffer zone, a lectern, a raised podium, a red-velvet rope and a score of gun-toting men. "There's nothing I'm nervous about."
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.
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