National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday to defend his organization one week after a gunman used an assault-style rifle to kill 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
LaPierre’s message, in short: A lot of things are to blame for school shootings, but guns aren’t among them.
“Their solution is to make you ― all of you ― less free,” he said, in reference to gun control proposals from what he called “elites” in the U.S.
“They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of the family, the failure of America’s school systems and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI,” LaPierre added.
The speech did not appear on the conference’s official schedule as a precaution in the aftermath of last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Washington Examiner reports. But the NRA chief always intended to speak at CPAC ― as he has for each of the last 10 years.
LaPierre attacked imaginary evils rather than defend his group’s hard-line policies, at one point accusing Democrats of wanting to “eradicate all individual freedoms.”
The elites don’t care not one whit about America’s school system and school children. Wayne LaPierre
LaPierre also made a populist appeal by painting people who want common-sense gun control as either out-of-touch elites or socialists. (LaPierre’s base salary exceeds $1 million. He reportedly made more than $5 million in 2015, once his bonus was taken into account.)
“The elites don’t care not one whit about America’s school system and school children,” he said. “If they truly cared, what they would do is they would protect them. For them it’s not a safety issue, it’s a political issue. They care more about control and more of it, their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so that they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”
He specifically called out a “tidal wave of new European socialist” leaders of the Democratic Party. The crowd booed as he listed off several names, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).
“Socialism is a movement that loves a smear,” he said. “Racists, misogynists, sexists, xenophobes and more. These are the weapons and vitriol these character assassinations permanently hang on their targets because socialism feeds off manipulated victims.”
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.