By Alan Fram Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Senate gun control debate on the near horizon, a National Rifle Association-sponsored report on Tuesday proposed a program for schools to train selected staffers as armed security officers. The former Republican congressman who headed the study suggested at least one protector with firearms for every school, saying it would speed responses to attacks.
The report’s release served as the gun-rights group’s answer to improving school safety after the gruesome December slayings of 20 first-graders and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. And it showed the organization giving little ground in its fight with President Barack Obama over curbing firearms.
Obama’s chief proposals include broader background checks for gun buyers and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines — both of which the NRA opposes.
The study — unveiled at a news conference watched over by several burly, NRA-provided guards — made eight recommendations, including easing state laws that might bar a trained school staff member from carrying firearms and improving school coordination with law enforcement agencies. But drawing the most attention was its suggested 40- to 60-hour training for school employees who pass background checks to also provide armed protection while at work.
“The presence of an armed security personnel in a school adds a layer of security and diminishes the response time that is beneficial to the overall security,” said Asa Hutchinson, a GOP former congressman from Arkansas who directed the study.
Asked whether every school would be better off with an armed security officer, Hutchinson replied, “Yes,” but acknowledged the decision would be made locally.
It is unusual for guards to provide security at events that lack a major public figure at the National Press Club, which houses offices for many news organizations. NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said he did not know whether the guards were armed, and several guards declined to say if they were.
Hutchinson said school security could be provided by trained staff members or school resource officers — police officers assigned to schools that some districts already have.
Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said while a trained law enforcement officer with a gun would be valuable, his group opposes arming “a teacher or an employee who simply has taken a course and now has the ability to carry a weapon.”
The Brady Campaign, a leading gun-control group, accused the NRA of “missing the point” by ignoring the need for expanded background checks and other measures the Senate is considering. It said people want “a comprehensive solution that not only addresses tragic school shootings, but also helps prevent the thousands of senseless gun deaths each year.”
Also denouncing the recommendations was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million teachers and other workers. She called it a “cruel hoax that will fail to keep our children and schools safe” while helping only gun manufacturers.
The NRA released its report as congressional momentum seems to have stalled for any sweeping steps to curb firearms violence.
Top Senate Democrats have little hope for a proposed ban on assault weapons, and the prospects for barring large-capacity magazines also seem difficult. Key senators remain short of a bipartisan compromise on requiring gun transactions between private individuals to undergo federal background checks, which currently apply only to sales handled by licensed gun dealers. The Senate plans to begin debating gun legislation next week.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said administration officials were seeking middle ground and emphasized background checks, widely seen by gun control advocates as the most effective step available.
“We are working with lawmakers of both parties, and trying to achieve a compromise that can make this happen. Especially when it comes to the background checks,” Carney told reporters.
The spokesman commented as a White House official revealed that the president plans a trip next week to Connecticut, scene of the horrific elementary school shootings that spurred the new push for gun control legislation. Obama wants to use the trip to build pressure on Congress to pass legislation.
Obama also plans to focus on firearms curbs in a trip Wednesday to Denver, not far from last summer’s mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
The 225-page study cost the NRA more than $1 million, Hutchinson said. The task force included several former top officials of federal law enforcement and security agencies, including the Secret Service and Homeland Security Department.
Hutchinson acknowledged that the study omitted an earlier NRA recommendation that retired police officers and other volunteers be armed to provide school safety. He said the idea encountered “great reluctance” from school superintendents.
Hutchinson said the NRA did not interfere with his task force’s work. In a written statement, the NRA said the report “will go a long way to making America’s schools safer.”
Hutchinson also called “totally inadequate” a gun control measure working through the Connecticut legislature that includes a tightening of the state’s assault weapons ban. The measure wouldn’t prevent an attacker with a handgun or other firearms from attacking a school, he said.
Debbie Leidlein, chairwoman of the Newtown Board of Education, said having trained staff members carry weapons “can become a dangerous situation to have any individuals outside of those who have police training to be carrying weapons around children.”
But the proposal won support from Mark Mattioli, whose 6-year-old son James was killed at Newtown and who attended the NRA news conference.
“These are recommendations for solutions, real solutions that will make our kids safer,” Mattioli said.
Associated Press John Christoffersen in New Haven, Conn., and Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, N.Y., contributed to this report.