National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre criticized advocates of tougher gun control laws Thursday, saying they won't prevent mass school shootings like the one that killed 17 people recently in Florida, instead touting enforcement measures such as armed security in U.S. schools.
"Schools must be the most hardened targets in this country and evil must be confronted immediately with all necessary force to protect our kids," LaPierre said in his first public comments since the February 14 killing of students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
LaPierre, the head of one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the United States, strongly defended the nation's gun laws at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual event outside Washington attended by thousands of conservative politicians, strategists and activists.
LaPierre criticized "Democratic socialists" for promoting the need for more stringent gun control laws and warned the country would be adversely affected if they gained representation in state legislatures and in Congress.
"Our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever, and the first to go will be the Second Amendment of our Constitution," he said.
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LaPierre made no mention of the student survivors of the Parkland shooting, who have sparked an unprecedented wave of youth-led gun-reform protests across the U.S.
Also addressing the issue was Vice President Mike Pence, who vowed President Donald Trump will "make the safety of our nation's schools and our students our top national priority" when he meets with U.S. governors next week in Washington.
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"President Trump and our entire administration will continue to take strong action to make our schools safe and to give law enforcement and our families the tools they need to deal with those struggling with dangerous mental illness," Pence said.
Earlier Thursday, Trump refined his gun control views, saying he wants only the most trained 20 percent of teachers to carry concealed weapons to thwart school massacres. Trump also called for comprehensive background checks of gun buyers, raising the age to buy assault-style rifles from 18 to 21 and ending the sale of "bump stocks" that increase the fire power of some weapons.
Pence and North Korea, IS, Israel
The vice president used the event to tout the administration's progress during the past year, including its resolve to stand firm against North Korea, a country he said is governed by "the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet."
"The United States of America doesn't stand with murderous dictatorships. We stand up to murderous dictatorships," Pence said. "And we will keep standing strong until North Korea stops threatening our country, our allies, or until they abandon their nuclear and ballistics once and for all."
Pence also praised the administration for participating in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State militant group, declaring, "ISIS is on the run, their caliphate has crumbled."
He added the administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital has restored the country's global reputation. "America once again stands without apology as leader of the free world."
Trump is the featured speaker at the four-day event and will address the audience Friday. At last year's conference, an annual event hosted by the American Conservative Union, Trump was considered too controversial to attend.