In an amazing Friday morning press conference in Washington DC, the National Rifle Association broke its weeklong silence following the horrific shooting of 26 people at a school in Newtown, CT and called for a surge of gun-carrying "good guys" around American schools.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called for a new kind of American domestic security revolving around armed civilians, arguing that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
"We care about our president, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents," LaPierre said. "Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by Capitol Police officers. 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, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it, and exploit it."
LaPierre's speech was a call to supporters to mobilize around a new vision of American domestic security, at a time when voices for gun control are steadily rising. On Friday morning before the press conference, President Obama released a video (above) citing a petition by hundreds of Americans calling for swift action.
At the grassroots level, groups like Newtown United, a group of Newtown neighbors, are working to address major issues related to the tragedy, including gun control, violent media, mental health and legislation.
Locally, school districts already have taken action to keep schools safe.
On Friday afternoon, James Cromie, communications director for Keystone Oaks School District, said he had not seen the NRA's statement yet and couldn't comment on it directly. However, he said, school police officer Aaron Vanatta serves all five of the district's school buildings, including three elementary schools, and is armed at all times.
Vanatta is the district's only police officer. He is based at the middle school/high school complex, but serves and oversees safety measures at all five buildings.
"We’ve taken these situations very seriously, and that’s why we hired Officer Vanatta to begin with," Cromie said. He serves a key function for us on all levels of schools safety."
Vanatta, a police officer who has worked for Keystone Oaks School District for three years, leads discussions and workshops with students to discuss safety and making good decisions. He co-ordinates safety drills and helps form safety procedures for the district, and works with local police departments.
"We're in a unique position, being that our district serves three separate communities, but that our high school complex is in a district we don't serve," Cromie said. "Co-ordinating safety measures with four communities is no small task, and Aaron has done it."
The Keystone Oaks School District comprises the boroughs of Dormont, Green Tree and Castle Shannon, but the high school complex actually sits in Mt. Lebanon Township, which is a separate school district.
Newtown locals responded to the NRA press conference. Suzy DeYoung, a Newtown resident for nine years who has three children, said LaPierre's speech was playing to people’s fears.
“People are much smarter than this,” DeYoung said. “He is saying we need to be protected from guns by more guns. This lack of logic speaks for itself, and I truly believe the response you are abut to see from parents all around the world will offer better commentary than I ever could."
Joanna Zachos, a mother in Sandy Hook, CT said that while she supports an increase in gun control and personally does not believe in guns at all, that the larger problem goes "way beyond that."
"The problem we have is our immunity to violence as a society as a whole," she said. "Violent video games, violent movies, addiction to horror films. We've developed immunity to violence and violent images."
LaPierre also lamented violence in video games, music videos and "blood-soaked" films. But his central solution seemed to be a great mobilization of gun-carrying "good guys," a term he used repeatedly but did not define, who might be more present and respond more quickly than police.
"If we truly cherish our kids, more than our money, more than our celebrities, more than our sports stadiums, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible," LaPierre said. "And that security is only available with properly trained, armed 'good guys'."
LaPierre, who was interrupted twice by protesters who held signs in front of TV cameras, made a direct call for local action.
"I call on every parent. I call on every teacher. I call on every school administrator, every law enforcement officer in this country, to join with us and help create a national schools shield safety program to protect our children with the only positive line of defense that’s tested and proven to work," he said.
LaPierre did not take questions from reporters, and did not acknowledge the protesters.
Dormont-Brookline Patch Local Editor Erin Faulk contributed to this report.