NRA lists proposals for school security
WASHINGTON — A National Rifle Association task force on Tuesday recommended a training program to help arm school personnel as a way of preventing a repeat of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took 26 lives in Newtown, Conn.
“This is probably the one item that catches everybody’s attention,” said Asa Hutchinson, former House member from Arkansas and DEA administrator whom the NRA contracted to come up with school safety recommendations after Newtown.
“This is not talking about all teachers; teachers should teach,” Hutchinson said at a packed news conference called to roll out the NRA National School Shield Program’s eight recommendations for improved school safety.
“But if (a teacher or other school employee) has good experience and has an interest in it, and is willing to go through (40 to 60 hours of) training, then that is an appropriate resource that a school should be able to utilize.”
Hutchinson spoke as the Senate gears up to consider a package of gun-control proposals that the NRA adamantly opposes, including universal background checks and stiffer penalties for “straw purchasers” who buy guns on behalf of criminals and others not qualified to own them.
Hutchinson sidestepped questions on the politically charged issue of gun control vs. gun rights, telling reporters he was focused on school safety — an area, he said, where all sides of the gun debate can find “common ground.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration remains committed to seeking compromise on Capitol Hill.
“The president has always recognized that this is something that would be a challenge but that in the wake of the horrific shootings in Newtown was an obligation of all of us to work on and try to get done,” Carney said.
Also on Tuesday, the White House said President Obama would travel to Connecticut next Monday to speak at the University of Hartford and advocate for congressional approval of the package.
Gun-control advocates roundly condemned the NRA school safety effort.
“The NRA wants to turn schools into armed camps to protect students from ‘bad guys,’ yet it’s the NRA and its gun-industry patrons that help arm them with the most lethal weapons available and most minimal scrutiny possible,” said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center. “Today’s NRA recommendations demonstrate how desperate the organization is to change the subject away from the military-style assault weapons often used in such attacks and the unregulated gun industry that manufactures these weapons.”
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said that while school safety planning is important, “arming school personnel and training them for shootouts will only exacerbate problems.”
Hutchinson insisted the task force did not put all its chips on armed security in schools, pointing to a recommendation for “threat assessment teams” to work with mental health professionals to detect “early warning signs” and share information.
“The presence of armed security in a school is a layer that is just as important as the mental health component,” he said. “If you have a mental health component without having other security, it’s inadequate.”
At the news conference, Mark Mattioli, father of a Sandy Hook victim, praised the NRA-sponsored school shield program as “comprehensive.”
“I think politics needs to be sort of set aside here, and I hope this doesn’t lead to name-calling,” he said. He called the task force recommendations “real solutions that will make our kids safer, and that’s what we need.”
Hutchinson’s task force of 12 included former Secret Service officials, a former Air Force colonel and security experts with government and private sector experience.
The 225-page report and presentation at times came close to stock recommendations of a private security service for improved home or business protection, with an emphasis on more secure doors, windows and locks, better security cameras and monitoring of visitors, and improved “perimeter fencing.”
Among the recommendations apart from arming school personnel and revisions of state laws to permit it:
- An online security self-assessment website to help school officials identify weak spots.
- Designation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where Hutchinson worked as an official during the presidency of George W. Bush, as the lead agency to direct federal efforts aimed at school security.
- Agreements between schools and police departments for “school resource officers,” police officers assigned to individual schools for security purposes as well as educating school staff and watching out for potential juvenile crime problems. There are about 10,000 such officers working schools nationwide, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Hutchinson called Connecticut’s legislative agreement on gun control, which includes an assault weapons ban, “totally inadequate.”
An assault weapons ban “doesn’t stop someone bringing in a .45 caliber firearm in the school,” Hutchinson said. “If you’re going to protect children, you have to do something about school safety and enhancing our safety measures in schools. It can be done.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, said the NRA plan undercuts the role of schools as “safe, nurturing learning environments for our students.”
While safety plans are important, “we must leave those decisions to the people who know our schools best — not to those acting as a proxy for gun manufacturers,” she said. “Ironically, the NRA proposes extensive background checks for the people they want to guard our schools, but opposes those same background checks for anyone else.”