The head of America's National Rifle Association lashed out Thursday at critics of the powerful gun lobby, accusing them of exploiting last week's deadly school shooting in Florida for political advantage.
In his first public comments since the Parkland shooting that left 17 dead, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre accused gun control advocates within the Democratic Party of seeking to roll back the constitutional right to bear arms.
"The shameful politicization of tragedy, it's a classic strategy right out of the playbook of a poisonous movement," he told an annual conservative conference, hitting out in turn at supposed "socialists" on the political left, and at the "so-called national news media."
"For them it's not a safety issue, it's a political issue," he charged. "They hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom."
LaPierre is a fixture at the Conservative Political Action Conference held every year just outside Washington. President Donald Trump, who hosted survivors of the Parkland shooting at the White House Wednesday to explore options for reducing gun violence, is the keynote speaker at the event Friday.
The NRA chief, warmly welcomed by CPAC's attendees, said the NRA's millions of members "were all horrified" by the high school massacre, in which a 19-year-old went on a killing spree with a semi-automatic rifle and which has fuelled urgent calls for a toughening of America's lax gun laws.
But he also advocated for fortifying US schools with armed guards to prevent the future such killings.
"Evil walks among us," LaPierre said, adding that schools in gun-free zones are "wide open targets for any crazy madman."
He also doubled down on the NRA's longstanding position that armed Americans were the first line of defense in confronting deadly attacks.
"Lean in, listen to me now, and never forget these words: to stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun."
Earlier in the day, in a fired-up address, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch slammed the FBI for missing a series of warning signs ahead of the Florida shooting, while also asserting that the mainstream media benefited from such tragedies.
"Many in legacy media love mass shootings" she told the crowd. "Now I'm not saying that you love the tragedy but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you."