NRA hits back: LaPierre, at CPAC, says 'opportunists' exploiting Florida tragedy for 'political gain'

The leader of the National Rifle Association on Thursday pushed back hard against the latest efforts to enact new gun control measures in the wake of last week’s school shooting rampage in Florida, accusing liberals of exploiting the massacre “for political gain.”

“As usual, the opportunists wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain,” Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, said here in a fiery speech to conservative activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

LaPierre railed against “the elites” renewing calls for restricting gun ownership in the United States since the Parkland, Fla. shooting.

“Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms,” he said.

LaPierre said the “elites don't care not one whit about school children. If they truly cared, what they would do is protect them.”

He also reiterated calls for “trained armed security” in schools.

“The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous,” he said. 

The NRA has come under heavy criticism since the Florida school massacre, with students and others blasting the group for fighting gun law changes in the past. The address Thursday, though, left no doubt about where the group stands as a renewed gun control conversation takes shape in Washington and state capitals across the country in response.

LaPierre’s appearance at CPAC had been announced, but his timeslot had not been revealed ahead of time, apparently over security concerns about gun control protests.

LaPierre’s speech comes as President Trump is signaling an openness to certain gun control efforts, including the idea of raising the minimum age for purchasing certain firearms, which Trump publicly endorsed Thursday morning.

The discussion could be a test for Trump’s loyal base, as many of his supporters generally oppose new restrictions that would affect law-abiding gun owners. Yet Trump has flouted traditional conservative positions in the past, and could be testing whether he could sway certain wings of the party. 

Ahead of LaPierre’s speech, though, Trump also tweeted his support for the leadership of the organization, including LaPierre and NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox.

“What many people don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, is that Wayne, Chris and the folks who work so hard at the @NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots,” Trump tweeted. “They love our Country and will do the right thing. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Trump on Tuesday directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to craft new regulations to ban firearm modifiers including the “bump stock” used in the Las Vegas massacre. Trump also said he supports efforts to improve the federal background system. 

LaPierre paused during his speech to play a video message, in which he outlined several proposals for preventing school shootings: putting armed security in every school, fixing the mental health system, enforcing gun laws and putting "every prohibited person into the [background check] system." 

The address assumed a dire tone at times, which is not unusual for LaPierre's speeches. He warned of the consequences of this “new socialist wave in America,” telling conservatives they should be “anxious” and “frightened” about the prospect of Democrats winning back control of Congress or the White House.

“If they seize power, if these so-called European socialists take over the House and the Senate and God forbid they get the White House again, our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever,” he said. “And the first to go will be the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

LaPierre said he wishes “more had heeded my words” after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, when he called for more security in schools. “To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun,” he said.

“Schools must be the most hardened targets in this country,” LaPierre said. “And evil must be confronted immediately with all necessary force to protect our kids.”

Alex Pappas is a politics reporter at FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexPappas.