WASHINGTON (AP) — Banning some assault weapons and requiring background checks for all firearms purchases aren't a serious attempt to reduce gun violence, a top National Rifle Association official warned Tuesday as Congress geared up for the year's first hearing on the subject.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, said the country must instead focus on boosting security at schools, enforcing existing gun laws and taking more steps to deny guns to people with mental illnesses.
"Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals. Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families," LaPierre said in testimony he planned to deliver Wednesday at a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
LaPierre's statement, released Tuesday by the NRA, came nearly seven weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman killed 20 children and six adults. The horrific slayings have revived the national debate over gun control, with President Barack Obama proposing a range of restrictions last week and members of Congress introducing legislation on the subject.
LaPierre's testimony was similar in substance but somewhat milder in tone than some statements the organization has made recently.
Less than two weeks after the mass shooting, LaPierre attacked the "media machine" for blaming the gun industry for attacks like Newtown and said what was needed to prevent the next massacre were armed guards and police in every school. Earlier this month, the NRA ran a television ad calling Obama an "elitist hypocrite" for voicing doubts about having armed school guards while his own children are protected that way at their school. While Obama's children have Secret Service protection, officials at their school say its own guards don't carry guns.
"We need to be honest about what works and what does not work. Proposals that would only serve to burden the law-abiding have failed in the past and will fail in the future," LaPierre said in his prepared remarks.
A ban on some semi-automatics considered to be assault weapons was tried from 1994 to 2004 and failed to reduce crime, he said. He also said background checks will never be universal because criminals won't submit to them. Both are among measures that Obama is seeking.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has already introduced legislation taking similar steps to Obama's proposals, including banning assault weapons and magazines that house more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
She said Tuesday that she will hold her own hearing on gun control because she was unhappy that three of the five witnesses testifying to the Judiciary panel on Wednesday are "skewed against us." Feinstein is a member of the committee.
Despite the momentum gun-control advocates have gained since the Newtown shootings, it will be difficult for them to prevail in Congress this year because of the popularity of guns in many states — including several represented by Democratic senators — and the formidable muscle of the NRA on Capitol Hill, lawmakers and other say. Among other obstacles, the Republican-run House has shown little immediate interest in making dramatic changes in the laws.
"It's hard," Feinstein said of gun legislation prospects. "I know it's hard. It doesn't mean I shouldn't try."
AP reporter David Espo contributed to this report.