A task force working for the National Rifle Association recommended Tuesday that at least one armed guard be stationed on every campus in America as part of a three-month review on how to make schools safer in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
But Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas and a former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said his group of high-profile law enforcement experts did not examine – and has no opinion on – the gun control legislation the Senate will consider next week.
But he said that any proposal would be inadequate if it did not include specific school safety proposals.
“You can address assault weapons and it doesn’t stop someone bringing in a .45-caliber firearm into school,” Hutchinson said. “So if you’re going to protect children, you’re going to have to do something about school safety.”
Hired by the NRA as a consultant, Hutchinson unveiled the group’s 225-page report at a packed news conference at the National Press Club in downtown Washington. More than a dozen NRA-hired armed guards, some in uniform, were positioned around the room and hallways, instructing reporters and photographers where they could stand and walk. One guard was accompanied by a bomb-sniffing dog.
Mark Mattiolli, whose 6-year-old son, James, was killed in the Newtown shootings in December, applauded the task force in brief remarks at the news conference.
“I think politics needs to be set aside here, and I hope this doesn’t lead to name calling,” he said. “This is a recommendation for solutions, real solutions that will make our kids safer. That’s what we need.”
The School Shield Task Force made eight recommendations. They include training programs for school resource officers, online school security assessments, improved federal education and funding, and additional coordination between schools and law enforcement.
“I really hope that when they’re seeking common ground, this will be the common ground,” Hutchinson said.
The NRA, the politically powerful guns rights lobby, provided Hutchinson with up to $1 million in expenses for the report. But the organization said Tuesday that it still needed to review the study.
“The National Rifle Association is determined to continue to use every asset at its disposal to help make America’s children safe at school,” the group said in a statement. “We need time to digest the full report.”
The most significant recommendation called for arming school employees with a handgun, shotgun or semiautomatic rifle after 40 to 60 hours of training and changes in state laws. But individual schools would still be able to make a decision about whether to have armed guards.
Hutchinson said he does not know how much the task force’s proposal would cost, though the training would likely cost $800 to $1,000 for each employee. He said the task force dismissed suggestions to arm volunteers after school superintendents rejected that proposal.
Though it did not receive much attention, President Barack Obama’s package of recommendations intended to curb gun violence unveiled in January included hiring 1,000 more school resource officers, some of whom could be armed.
The inclusion of armed guards in the report was not surprising. A week after the Newtown shooting, the NRA called on Congress to require armed guards in every school. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said at the time.
School groups immediately criticized the proposal.
“Schools must be safe, nurturing learning environments for our students, which is why we are opposed to proposals to arm educators or turn our schools into armed fortresses,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The timing of the announcement comes days before the Senate is expected to vote on a package of proposals, including requiring background checks for all firearms purchases and increasing penalties for gun traffickers. Obama will travel to Denver on Wednesday and Hartford, Conn., on Monday to push the legislation.