Wayne LaPierre, the group’s embattled chief executive, opened the program with remarks bemoaning the “Twenty-one beautiful lives ruthlessly and indiscriminately extinguished by a criminal monster.” Still, he said that “restricting the fundamental human rights of law-abiding Americans to defend themselves is not the answer. It never has been.”

One by one, they took the stage at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention and denounced the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school across the state. And one by one, they insisted that further restricting access to firearms was not the answer to preventing future tragedies, AP reports.

“The existence of evil in our world is not a reason to disarm law-abiding citizens,” said former President Donald Trump, who was among the Republicans who lined up to speak before the gun rights lobbying group Friday as thousands of protesters angry about gun violence demonstrated outside.

“The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens,” he said.

The gathering came just three days after the shooting in Uvalde and as the nation grappled with revelations that students trapped inside a classroom with the gunman repeatedly called 911 during the attack — one pleading “Please send the police now” — as officers waited in the hallway for more than 45 minutes.

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