WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Rifle Association’s task force for improving school safety released a 225-page report Tuesday with a list of recommendations, including the modification of state laws to allow trained staff to carry weapons on campus. Other recommendations included addressing students’ mental health needs and boosting physical security through architectural changes and elements like perimeter fencing around schools.
The National School Shield task force also recommended enhanced training programs for school resource officers, who are sworn law enforcement officials on campus duty, and training armed school staff to respond rapidly in case of an emergency.
Such training for armed school personnel would last 40 to 60 hours and cost about $800 to $1,000 per person, said Asa Hutchinson, the task force director and a former Congressman from Arkansas, who presented the report.
The recommendations were aimed at schools, local and federal governments, and the NRA itself, Hutchinson said. His group reached its conclusions after assessing a number of diverse schools and interviewing school officials from around the country over three months, he said.
The group’s findings dealt only with ways to make schools more secure and not with wider issues such as background checks for gun buyers or federal limits on the capacity of bullet clips, he emphasized.
Hutchinson was guarded by an unusually strong security presence while presenting the report at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., yesterday.
Hulking guards with matching lapel pins and earpieces stood around the lobby of the Press Club and checked journalists’ backpacks before allowing them to enter the room where Hutchinson was to speak. More guards stood by the exits at the front and the back of the room.
After the conference, guards outside the room tried to stop journalists from standing in certain areas of the Press Club lobby while waiting for Hutchinson to exit the club. When a guard was asked if he was with the NRA or with a security firm hired by the NRA, he looked away without answering the question.
Hutchinson stressed during his presentation that his task force operated independently from the NRA. An advance press listing, however, gave the following description for the event: “The National Rifle Association (NRA) holds a discussion on the findings and recommendations of the National School Shield Program.” The email address for media registration was also an NRA address.
The task force’s conclusions closely follow the recommendations made by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre in the weeks following the Connecticut school shootings, when he recommended arming teachers in schools as a way to deter future school shootings.
“We need time to digest the full report,” the NRA said in an online response to the task force’s findings.
The task force’s recommendations also come at a time when momentum for federal legislative action on gun safety has slowed, and the NRA appears to be winning its battle against stronger gun control. Public support for stricter gun laws appears to have stagnated or even slipped below the level it was at three months ago, soon after the shooting deaths of 20 elementary school children in Connecticut, according to the Pew Research Center.
Hutchinson’s presentation came on the heels of an address on gun control by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), held an hour earlier at the Press Club. In fact, Cummings was still answering questions from a full room at one end of the Press Club while other reporters were filing into the packed NRA-sponsored event down the hall.
Cummings, who introduced gun-control legislation with support from more than 100 bipartisan co-sponsors last month, expressed concern that endless debates would prevent Congress from passing any actual laws. He emphasized he was willing to work with the NRA to reach a legislative compromise that addressed the concerns of all sides.
Prominent child advocates, however, voiced strong opposition to the task force’s proposals.
“The truth is there is no evidence that armed guards or police officers in schools make children safer. Columbine High School had an armed guard, and Virginia Tech had a full campus police force,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, in a written response to the NRA task force’s recommendations.
“It is long past time for us to protect child safety instead of guns. We must not allow the gun lobby to enrich gun manufacturers at the expense of our children’s education and safety, ” Edelman said.
Photo by shannonpatrick17, edited | Flickr