The head of the National Rifle Association, or NRA, Wayne LaPierre, has broken his silence after last week’s Florida school shooting that left 17 dead and sparked a student-led national conversation on gun legislation. On Thursday, LaPierre attacked his opponents as communist sympathizers hellbent on undermining individual freedoms.
Wayne LePierre: “The elites don’t care, not one wit, about America’s school system and schoolchildren. 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 they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”
LaPierre was speaking at CPAC, the annual convention of the Conservative Political Action Conference. He was joined by NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, who singled out camera crews and reporters in the back of the CPAC convention.
Dana Loesch: “Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. 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 and many in the legacy media in the back.”
President Trump will address the CPAC convention today.
President Trump on Thursday repeated his call to arm U.S. teachers with concealed firearms, saying he was prepared to seek funds for a program that would see as many as 40 percent of U.S. school staffers trained to carry weapons.
President Donald Trump: “The people that do carry, we give them a bonus. We give them a little bit of a bonus.”
Trump’s proposal drew swift condemnation from teachers and their unions. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called President Trump’s idea “terrible.”
Randi Weingarten: “This is the man who cut $9 billion out of the federal budget for schools, who cut every single summer school program, who cut every single after-school program, who’s cut programs for art and for music, and, frankly, two days before Parkland, cut safety measures and cut mental health measure. The only people that are helped by arming teachers are the gun manufacturers and the NRA, who want to see more sales of guns.”
President Trump’s proposal to arm teachers came as Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Thursday the only armed officer present at Stoneman Douglas High School during the massacre on Valentine’s Day took cover outside and failed to enter the school to engage the shooter. The deputy, Scot Peterson, resigned and then retired after he was suspended without pay. Sheriff Israel said surveillance video showed him doing “nothing” during the assault.
Meanwhile, a Texas school district has threatened to suspend any student taking part in a walkout or holding a protest in solidarity with nationwide student demonstrations against guns. Writing on the Facebook page of the Needville Independent School District near Houston, Superintendent Curtis Rhodes warned, “Please be advised that the Needville ISD will not allow a student demonstration during school hours for any type of protest or awareness!!”
This contrasts with many local officials who have backed high school protesters. In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey joined students and teachers who walked out of classes Wednesday in a protest against gun violence. Their protest occurred as students and staff at schools in the Orono School District in suburban Minneapolis barricaded their classroom doors after social media posts threatened a school shooting. The lockdown was lifted after police arrested a male student on felony charges of making terroristic threats.
In Syria, warplanes bombarded the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus for the fifth straight day, as human rights groups warned the civilian death toll has topped 400 for the week—with doctors unable to tend to the wounded in bombed-out hospitals. The violence came as Russia tabled a debate at the U.N. Security Council Thursday on a measure calling for a 30-day ceasefire to allow for evacuations of the sick and wounded and for convoys of humanitarian aid to reach needy residents. Russia’s ambassador said a vote at the U.N. was likely to occur later today.
A top official at the United Nations Children’s Fund—UNICEF—resigned Thursday amid reports he sexually harassed women at his previous workplace, the British charity Save the Children. Justin Forsyth’s resignation from UNICEF came after BBC Radio reported he faced three complaints of inappropriate behavior, including sending inappropriate text messages and commenting on the appearance of female workers.
Haiti has suspended the British charity Oxfam as it investigates reports that it tried to cover up sex crimes by senior aid workers in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. An internal Oxfam review concluded senior aid workers at the charity hired prostitutes at Oxfam properties in Haiti and then tried to cover it up. Haiti’s minister of planning and external cooperation, Aviol Fleurant, said Thursday his government was leading its own investigation into Oxfam.
Aviol Fleurant: “If during the two-month-long investigation I find out there is a link between the aid funds that Oxfam received on behalf of Haiti and the crime that has been committed, we will declare Oxfam Great Britain persona non grata in the country.”
In the occupied West Bank city of Jericho, a Palestinian man died Thursday after he was arrested and severely beaten by Israeli soldiers. Israel’s military initially said they subdued 33-year-old Yasin al-Saradih after he attacked soldiers with a knife and attempted to steal a gun; the military later said they fired bullets to stop al-Saradih after he attacked soldiers with an iron bar. But surveillance video later emerged showing Israeli soldiers kicking and beating al-Saradih before dragging his limp body away. The newspaper Haaretz reports an autopsy showed no bullet wounds were found on his body, contradicting the military’s statement.
Back in Florida, state prison officials administered a lethal cocktail of drugs to death row prisoner Eric Scott Branch Thursday, stopping his heart. Witnesses to the execution say Branch screamed and repeatedly shouted “Murderers!” as the drugs were administered. Prison officials would later deny that the scream was caused by the execution drugs.
Meanwhile, Alabama has postponed the execution of death row prisoner Doyle Lee Hamm after medical staff decided they were unable to find a viable vein where they could inject lethal drugs. The postponement came after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Hamm’s argument that he has compromised veins from cancer and past drug use that would have made his execution by lethal injection unconstitutionally cruel.
Meanwhile, in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott halted what would have been Thursday’s third U.S. execution, granting clemency to condemned prisoner Bart Whitaker and commuting his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors say that in 2003 Bart Whitaker arranged to have a hitman kill his family members. He was convicted of masterminding the attack, which left his mother and brother dead. Bart Whitaker’s father, Kent, survived the attack and later spoke out against his son’s death sentence.
In Virginia, a federal grand jury handed down fresh indictments against Donald Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, accusing them of financial and tax crimes. The 32-count indictment came as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The charges add to money laundering and conspiracy charges already filed against Manafort and Gates.
And in Missouri, police arrested Republican Governor Eric Greitens Thursday after a grand jury indicted him on charges of felony invasion of privacy stemming from an extramarital affair in 2015. The indictment accuses Greitens of blindfolding and tying up a woman with whom he was having a consensual affair, and then taking her picture without her consent—and threatening to release the naked photograph if she ever spoke publicly about the affair. Greitens was arraigned Thursday and later released on his own recognizance. He has acknowledged the affair but denies any criminal behavior. Greitens is a former U.S. Navy SEAL who was elected in 2016 after he ran on a pro-gun, anti-Obama platform. He had been a Democrat, who then changed to become a Republican. This is an excerpt of a campaign commercial in which Greitens is seen firing hundreds of rounds from a high-caliber machine gun.
Announcer: “Eric Greitens, a governor who will set his sights on politics as usual, reduce spending, create jobs, protect life, defend the Second Amendment and fight Obama’s Democrat machine and their corrupt attacks.”
Missouri’s Republican House speaker said Thursday that lawmakers will investigate the governor—the first step toward possible impeachment proceedings.