The National Rifle Association has unveiled its recommendations for placing at least one armed guard inside every school campus in the country in proposals that were immediately denounced by gun control advocates as radical and dangerous.
America’s most activist gun rights lobby group presented in Washington what it claimed was an “independent” review of school safety standards headed by a former Republican congressman from Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson. The core recommendation of the 225-page report is that school personnel carrying firearms should be placed not only within every school but within every campus in every school.
Hutchinson said that the presence of armed school personnel would cut down the time needed to intercept an active shooter present inside school premises. “One thing you know for sure is that the response time is critical – if you can reduce that response time, if you have the firearm on the presence of someone in the school, it will save lives.”
The NRA‘s school shield report puts flesh on the bone of an idea first raised by Wayne LaPierre, the pugnacious executive vice-president of the lobby group, who made posting armed guards in all schools the centerpiece of his response to the Newtown school shooting in December. His memorable comment on school safety was that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.
The NRA’s new list of recommendations include changing local state and district laws to allow school personnel to carry guns – the report even has appended a model state law that would do so. It calls on federal funding to be used to encourage the take up of armed school guards and their training, which would involve between 40 to 60 hours of induction into the use of weapons – with the NRA offering its services as a training institution.
Hutchinson said that a range of guns could be deployed by the new armed school personnel, from handguns, to shotguns and even AR-15s, the semi-automatic assault rifles of the type used by the Newtown shooter with such devastating effect.
The proposals were instantly decried by groups advocating greater restrictions on the availability and movement of guns. Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said that the NRA was the “last organisation in the world that you want meddling in schools and telling them what they should or should not do”.
Horwitz said that 40 to 60 hours of training was inadequate and that without permanent ongoing training the stationing of armed personnel in schools could be extremely dangerous. “The most important skill is knowing when not to shoot, and that requires ongoing training.”
He added: “If the NRA was really serious about school safety they would work to reduce the number of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and number of people out there who shouldn’t be carrying guns at all.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said the proposals would militarize schools. “The proposal includes potentially radical elements, including getting the federal government in the business of supplying arms to teachers, without any evidence that doing so would make children safer,” said the group’s Laura Murphy.
In the three months since the 14 December shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the NRA has been lobbying vociferously against President Obama’s attempt to tighten gun controls. Its rigorous networking of Congress members – critics say bullying – has already helped to derail proposals for a renewed ban on assault rifles and put in peril the key reform of an extension of FBI monitoring to include all gun sales.
The schools plan is the sugar coating to the NRA’s tough tactics, designed to show the organisation in a more positive light and to rebuff accusations that it is dedicated to blocking reasonable reforms that would make America safer. It was significant that the schools report was presented by Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman for Arkansas, and not by the more garrulous LaPierre.
During the presentation, the NRA called on a “special guest speaker”, Mark Mattioli who lost his six-year-old son, James, in the Newtown shooting. “Politics needs to be set aside here, I hope this doesn’t lead to more name calling. These are recommendations for real solutions that will make our kids safer,” Mattioli said.
The shock of the Newtown shooting, in which 20 young children and six school staff were killed by a shooter wielding a military-style assault rifle, continues to make political waves across the country. But the impact is being made manifest in vastly contradictory ways.
In Connecticut, the state in which the Sandy Hook tragedy took place, the state assembly is preparing to vote tomorrow on what is seen as the most comprehensive package of gun controls in the country. The measures, which are likely easily to pass both houses, include background checks on all gun sales backed up by new eligibility certificates required for any purchase of weapons or ammunition, and new restrictions on dealing in assault rifles.
By contrast, the assembly in Alabama was poised to debate a new billthat would create a virtual free-for-all for gun owners in the state. The proposal that was set to be introduced to the senate floor on Tuesday would allow guns to be carried in private cars without a concealed carry permit and remove a prohibition on bringing firearms to public demonstrations.