The head of the powerful National Rifle Association in the United States has slammed advocates of gun control, accusing some of exploiting last week's school shooting in Florida.
Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedomsChief Executive, US National Rifle Association
Wayne LaPierre blasted "opportunists" and "European-style socialists" in America, accusing the NRA's critics of waiting "not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain".
More than a week on from the atrocity that left 17 people dead, Donald Trump went the furthest he has ever gone on suggesting reforms on gun control.
However, the president reiterated his idea of arming some teachers, first raised on Wednesday, and suggested they be paid a bonus. It has drawn a mixed reaction in a country fiercely divided over how to curb mass shootings and everyday gun violence.
The National Rifle Assocation (NRA) heavily backed Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. On Thursday its chief accused Democratic "elites" and the media of politicising the latest mass shooting in an attempt to fight gun rights.
"The elites don't care not one whit about America's school system and school children," NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre told the audience of conservatives near Washington. "Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms."
The US Constitution's Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms. The organisation has blamed the failure of school security, the shooter's family, the FBI and the US mental health system for the Florida attack.
At the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference, the organisation portrayed itself as the true protector of the country's schoolchildren.It's offered free training to those who want to bear arms to protect schools.
"We must immediately harden our schools. Every day young children are being dropped off at schools that are virtually wide open soft targets for anyone bent on mass murder. It should not be easier for a mad man to shoot up a school than a bank or a jewellery store or some Hollywood gala," LaPierre said.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer condemned LaPierre's comments and said the NRA was "once again spewing pathetic, out of touch ideas, blaming everything but guns".
President Trump gave his support to the National Rifle Association. He said he had been in touch with the politically influential gun lobby about his ideas to stem gun violence in schools, and called the group "Great American Patriots".
After meeting with survivors of last week's school shooting, Trump discussed new measures with state and local officials at the White House.
"We're going to do strong background checks, we're going to work on getting the age (from which to be able to buy guns) up to 21 instead of 18, we're getting rid of the bump stocks and we're going to be focusing very strongly on mental health, because here's the case of mental health," the president said.
The rampage on February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was the latest in a series of deadly shootings at American schools and has spurred unprecedented youth-led protests in cities across the country. Many of the teenagers and their parents taking part have called for more curbs on guns.