The powerful US gun rights lobby went on the offensive on Friday, arguing that schools should have armed guards, on a day that Americans remembered the victims of the Connecticut school massacre with a moment of silence.
National Rifle Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre argued that attempts to keep guns out of schools were ineffective and made schools more vulnerable than airports, banks and other public buildings patrolled by armed guards.
NRA calls for 'armed police in every school'
According to America's National Rifle Association, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun".
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre told a news briefing, calling on lawmakers to station armed police officers in all schools by the time children return from the Christmas break in January.
Referring to the 20-year-old who entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14 and killed 26 people - 20 of them children aged 6 and 7 - with a semi-automatic assault rifle, LaPierre added: "Does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn't planning his attack on a school he's already identified at this very moment?"
LaPierre's remarks, in which he charged that the news media and violent video games shared blame for the second-deadliest school shooting in US history, were twice interrupted by protesters who unfurled signs and shouted "stop the killing".
This week some US lawmakers called for swift passage of an assault-weapons ban and President Barack Obama commissioned a new task force to find a way to quell violence, a challenge in a nation with a strong culture of individual gun ownership.
LaPierre's comments drew a sharp response from gun-control advocates. He did not take questions at his news briefing.
"They offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
About 50 pro-gun-control protesters rallied outside the downtown Washington hotel where the NRA held its event.
"They were blaming it on all kinds of other things instead of guns themselves," said Medea Benjamin, co-director of women's peace group Code Pink, who was escorted out of the briefing after holding up a poster that read "NRA blood on your hands."
Another mass shooting occurred on Friday when a gunman killed three people and wounded three state troopers before being killed in a shootout with police in Frankstown Township, Pennsylvania.
'SENSE OF GUILT'
They offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America.
To remember the school massacre, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy observed a moment of silence with mourners at 9:30am EST (1430 GMT) and governors from Maine to California asked residents of their states to observe similar moments.
Church bells were also rung in memory of the victims in tree-lined Newtown and up and down the East Coast.
The attack shattered the illusion of safety in Newtown, a close-knit town of 27,000 people where many residents know someone affected by the attacks.
Some residents have already launched an effort aimed at tightening rules on gun ownership. The newly formed group calling itself "Newtown United" held a third meeting this week aimed at developing a strategy to influence the gun debate.
Democratic Senator-elect Chris Murphy, who spoke to the group on Wednesday evening, called the NRA comments "the most revolting, tone-deaf statement I've ever heard."
In downtown Newtown, a makeshift memorial of teddy bears and flower bouquets has grown around two Christmas trees.
"What I feel is a sense of guilt because I've been a strong advocate of gun control for years," said 61-year-old resident John Dewees. "I wish I'd been more vocal. You wonder, had we all been, could we have averted this?"
The NRA proposal would take one of every seven U.S. police officers off the streets during school days, based on a Reuters analysis of data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Education Department.
Gun rights advocates were quick to back the NRA proposal.
"They have come up with an idea that is immediately usable," said Joseph Tartaro, executive editor of The Gun Mag, a publication of the Second Amendment Foundation. "What they were doing was to state some facts and to offer an immediate, constructive solution."
The Second Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms and hundreds of millions of weapons are in private hands.
The right is closely guarded by gun advocates, even though about 11,100 Americans died in gun-related killings in 2011, not including suicides, according to preliminary data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the Newtown massacre, the gunman used a military-style assault rifle and carried two handguns. The weapons were legally purchased and registered to his mother, who Lanza shot and killed before the massacre.
ECHOES OF COLUMBINE
The NRA proposal was similar to its call after the 1999 shooting spree at Columbine High School in Colorado, when two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before committing suicide. That school had an armed sheriff's deputy on duty who was unable to stop the shooting.
At that time, Congress funded a "cops in schools" program though many schools dropped their officers after the federal aid that paid for the program ran out.
A security consultant to the National Association of Secondary School Principals said armed guards would improve school safety but said it is not clear one would have prevented the carnage at Sandy Hook, where the gunman reportedly wore a bulletproof vest.
"He might have stopped it. He might have shortened it. He might have been the first one killed," said the consultant, Bill Bond.
The head of the largest US teachers union called the NRA proposal "out of touch."
"If your purpose is to reduce gun violence in schools, then the solution isn't to add more guns to schools," said the official, Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association.