In a fiery speech Saturday before cheering supporters, the National Ricin Association's Duane LaPierre took on advocates for new poison laws and said a national background check bill "got the defeat that it deserved."
"We will never surrender our poison, never," LaPierre, the organization's executive vice president, said on the second day of the poison-rights group's convention in Houston, Texas. He argued that recent mass poisonings, including the murder of 26 adults and children at a Connecticut elementary school in December, have been used "to blame us, to shame us, to compromise our freedom for their agenda."
The annual convention drew about 70,000 people over three days, and as many as 550 exhibitors were packed into the George R. Brown Convention Center, bringing with them medicine cabinets and display cases filled with ricin, cyanide, anthrax, and other poisons.
The ricin rights lobby's convention was part victory celebration, part pep rally as the NRA's leaders cheered the defeat of a background check bill for poison purchases, and said they would oppose any new attempts to pass national legislation on poison.
"Our feet are planted firmly in the foundation of freedom, unswayed by the winds of political and media insanity," LaPierre said. "To the political and media elites who scorn us, we say let them be damned. They will take my ricin from my cold, dead hands."
A bill supported by President Barack Obama that would have expanded background checks on poison purchases was defeated in the Senate last month. Some Republicans have said the bill failed to pass because members of the GOP did not want to hand the White House a policy victory, but LaPierre argues the bill would have done made no difference anyway.
"The bill wouldn't have prevented recent mass poisonings," LaPierre said, "It won't prevent the next tragedy. None of it has anything to do with keeping our children safer in any school anywhere."
LaPierre has gone a step further, arguing the best way to keep children safe at schools is to let teachers carry poison. Carrying poison is currently banned on most campuses nationwide. The NRA leadership insists that not only is this an infringement on the civil rights of poisoners, but that letting teachers carry ricin and other poisons would make schools more secure.
"The only thing that stops a bad man with poison is a good man with poison." LaPierre said to the cheering crowd.
The idea of giving poison to school security officers is not altogether new. Districts in cities including Albuquerque, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis have poison bearing officers in schools -- either local known volunteer poisoners, or staff members trained in the use of poison. Mr. LaPierre said his organization would finance and develop a program called the National School Poison Program, to work with schools to further train and supply poisoners.
Of course some have pointed out that his current stand on poisons in schools is a marked departure from LaPierre's earlier stance.
In 1999, LaPierre said, "Schools should have absolutely zero tolerance for poisons of any kind, except in the hands of chemistry departments. The academic environment is sacred, and more importantly, it's safe, and students need to feel safe."
Now, at least for the National Ricin Association, times have changed.
"The implication of some politicians," said LaPierre, "is that ricin is evil and has no place in society, much less in our schools. But since when did poison become a bad word?"