When the American Conservative Union released a detailed schedule for its Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this week, one previously scheduled speaker wasn’t on it: the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre. When this prompted speculation that LaPierre’s speaking slot had been cut in the wake of the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school, the ACU’s Matt Schlapp tweeted that “our friend” LaPierre was still scheduled to speak at the event. The Washington Examiner later reported that, unsurprisingly, the details of LaPierre’s speech were being kept under wraps “as a precaution…amid outrage among anti-gun protesters” in the aftermath of the shooting.
This morning, CPAC handed out schedules to participants showing that LaPierre would be speaking at 10:00 am. Having successfully avoided drawing mass protests, LaPierre then gave an outrageous speech about how his opponents are “saboteurs” intent on destroying the Constitution and capitalism.
But to listen to Schlapp tell it, the ACU was perfectly open about LaPierre’s schedule and his inclusion in the event was part of an effort to have an open and respectful conversation about gun violence.
In an interview with NPR’s David Greene this morning, Schlapp said that inviting LaPierre to speak was “the appropriate thing to do, even at a really tragic time.”
“We think it’s inappropriate to somehow hide from this conversation,” he said. “Conservatives believe in the Second Amendment, they believe in the Bill of Rights, and it’s not appropriate to go dark on talking about those topics just because a terrible tragedy happens. I hope that people who address this topic on our stage do it understanding that people are in pain and we are so close to this terrible tragedy, and have the right and appropriate tone.”
He added that “we’ve got to talk about our problems in society, we cannot back away from them,” praising the White House for holding an event for families of the Florida shooting yesterday, where President Trump suggested arming teachers as a solution to gun violence in schools.
When Greene asked why LaPierre was not included on the public schedule for CPAC, asking if the ACU was “trying to avoid the controversy here,” Schlapp denied it.
“Not at all, not at all. No, we announced Wayne LaPierre—I don’t know if you follow me on Twitter, but I tweeted out that Wayne was coming weeks ago. He was always going to speak…No, he’s on our schedule, he’s speaking, he was announced weeks ago. We are strong supporters of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre is my friend. If we’re going to resolve these questions as a country, leaders on the Second Amendment like Wayne LaPierre need to be part of the conversation.”