WASHINGTON, D.C. (Y) - One week after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the most powerful gun organization in the country is set to weigh in on an intensifying debate this morning.
The National Rifle Association has remained largely silent since last Friday's shooting, but that will all change when the group holds what is billing as a "major news conference" this morning in Washington that is set to begin at 10:45 a.m.
Calls for a broad debate on American gun laws and the causes of mass shootings has gained steam since the shootings.
President Obama has enlisted a White House Task Force, led by Vice President Biden, to come up with concrete recommendations on ways to address the issue by next month. And several lawmakers are now pushing to reinstate an assault weapons ban, first pushed by Congress in 1994 but lapsed in 2004.
Others suggest that lawmakers need to push laws to allow armed guns in schools and probe what effect mental health issues have had on mass shootings.
But today, the attention will rest squarely on NRA officials as they speak out for the first time since the shooting. In a short statement issued on Tuesday, the organization said is "prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
We will updating our readers here as the news conference is going on, so check back often.
11:33 a.m. Keene takes the stage and concludes the news conference as reporters shout questions. He repeats the organization's officers won't take questions. The bottom line is the NRA thinks that armed guards at schools and not pushing for more gun control measures is the way lawmakers should go after the issue.
11:31 School safety is a complex issue, but providing armed security could provide an important line of defense to protecting school children, Hutchinson said.
11:28 a.m. Hutchinson said he took the task of directing the model shield program with the condition that it would be independent. Armed, trained personnel will be part of the program, and it won't require any federal money. It will rely on volunteers.
11:26 a.m. "We must act now for the sake every child in America," LaPierre says before introducing Hutchinson
11:24 a.m. The NRA is creating what is calling a "model school shield program" to help improve security at schools It will be lead by former Rep. Asa Hutchinson and will be made available to every school that wants it free of charge, LaPierre says.
11:21 a.m. LaPierre calls on Congress to immediately appropriate money to put armed officers in every school in America. The conversation on this idea has to start immediately. He says the NRA has 11,000 police training instructors willing to help out.
11:17 a.m. LaPierre asks: "Why is the use of a gun when it's asked to be used to protect the president or used by the police, but bad when it's used to protect children." He calls on the media to "at least admit that it's possible" that armed guards could have stopped the Newtown massacre.
11:13 a.m. LaPierre criticizes the media for getting basic facts about guns wrong. "They don't know what they are talking about. He makes the point that increased regulation of guns amounts to "dishonest thinking." He adds, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
11:09 a.m. Federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% to lowest levels in a decade, LaPierre notes. He criticizes media for placing the blame on gun rights advocates and failing to talk about the "callous, corrupt shadow industry" pushed by Hollywood and video game makers.
11:06 a.m. A protester holding up a red handmade sign interrupts the press conference. He's carried out by security while yelling, "The NRA is killing our children."
11:05 a.m. LaPierre says pushing for gun-free killers offers an invitation to "insane" killers. He notes banks, stadiums, and lawmakers are protected by armed security, but we aren't doing the same for children. "We as a society are leaving them utterly defenseless...and the monsters of the world know it."
11:03 a.m. LaPierre says they remained "respectfully silent" out of respect for the families. He adds for all the anger thrown at his organization since Newtown tragedy no one is talking about how we protect our children now.
11:01 a.m. NRA President Keene introduces the organization's Wayne LaPierre, but says the organization will not take questions from reporters.
10:43 a.m. USA TODAY's Jackie Kucinich reports that security is tight at the Willard Hotel, site of the NRA news conference.About a dozen security guards in black suits wearing red and blue pins stood in and around the ballroom where the press conference would later take place. Just before 9:30 a.m. the NRA's David Keene came to the podium and asked for the reporters and staff milling around the room to join him in observing a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting in Newtown.
10:33 a.m. We will have to wait a little bit longer to hear what the NRA has to say. The press conference has been pushed back to 11 a.m.