WASHINGTON — Arming teachers and other personnel is the best approach to combat gun violence in schools, the National Rifle Association reiterated Tuesday.
“We want the debate focused on school safety,” said former Arkansas Congressman Asa Hutchinson at the National Press Club. “Teachers should teach, but if there is a personnel that has good experience, has interest in it and is willing to go through the training…then that is an appropriate resource a school should be able to utilize.”
Hutchinson released an eight-point list of recommendations drawn up by the NRA-funded School Shield Task Force, which he heads. The task force was launched in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The group spent the past three months assessing schools nationwide for security vulnerabilities, best practices and technologies. Their findings were detailed in a 225-page report.
The goal of having armed personnel in schools is to reduce response time in emergency situations, Hutchinson said.
After passing background checks and screening, personnel designated by school districts would receive 40-60 hours of training at what the NRA estimated would cost from $800 to $1,000.
Focusing solely on mental health to improve school safety is inadequate, Hutchinson said, calling instead for a “comprehensive plan of layered security.”
But Maryland educators are skeptical about the NRA’s plan to fight guns with guns.
“I’m not sure a whole lot of parents want to see little elementary school kids walking by armed guards when they to go school,” said Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association.
Intentionally increasing the number of guns in schools can make accidental shootings more likely, Weller said, echoing a common criticism of plans to arm teachers.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us to come up with more common sense solutions to prevent gun violence, not just always react to it,” Weller said. “Guns have done a lot of damage in schools. I’m not sure if that’s the best way to deal with this.”
The report also recommends increased coordination between schools and local law enforcement, more training for school resource officers, security assessments, threat assessments, state safety requirements, improved federal coordination and funding. The task force also suggested creation of an umbrella national organization to provide leadership for school safety –a role it feels it is in a position to fill.
The task force’s report did not look at gun control legislation circulating on Capitol Hill, including proposals to limit ammunition capacity and ban assault weapons.
Before Hutchinson’s remarks, Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, urged action on gun control in a separate speech just down the hall.
“One of my greatest concerns is that arguments go back and forth and we end up doing absolutely nothing,” said Cummings, a chief sponsor of the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013.
The bill, which was introduced in early February and has 102 co-sponsors in the House, would create a federal law prohibiting the purchase or transfer of weapons intended for recipients who may not possess a gun, such as felons. It also strengthens punishments for those found to have lied about the intended recipients of purchased guns, so-called “straw purchasers.”
Cummings acknowledged that his bill may not have the votes to pass the Republican-controlled House, but said he isn’t frustrated.
“This is about moving the ball up the court. I don’t know whether we’ll score two points or three points. But I believe that we will accomplishment something. And it may be that we lay the foundation in this Congress to do even more in the next Congress,” Cummings said.
He referred to the NRA and other gun control legislation opponents as “wonderful people,” but took issue with their plan to focus solely on school safety.
“Gun violence is not just restricted to schools,” Cummings said.
Asked about the School Shield plan, he was both honest and diplomatic.
“Having more guns at schools I don’t think is necessarily the answer,” he said. “But any jurisdiction that wants to take care of their kids in that way, may not be a bad proposal. I wouldn’t just throw that suggestion out the window, just as I would not want him to toss the things that we are trying to address here out the window.”
By Jeremy Barr and Yagana Shah