NRA-Funded Plan Recommends Armed Staff Members In Schools

Ever since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., in December, the National Rifle Association has promised a plan for keeping schoolchildren safe.

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As Connecticut moves toward those tough new gun laws, the National Rifle Association unveiled its own plan today to make schools safer. The gun rights group had promised such a plan last December, just a week after the Newtown massacre.

As NPR's Peter Overby reports, the NRA's proposal, dubbed National School Shield, would put at least one armed guard in every school.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: NRA events have an atmosphere of their own. This morning, about 100 journalists and two dozen cameras crammed into a meeting room in downtown Washington. And around the perimeter of the room, the NRA's security guards - at least some of them were armed. That perimeter is a hint of what the NRA has in mind for America's schools.

The head of the task force for the National School Shield program is NRA consultant Asa Hutchinson.

ASA HUTCHINSON: If you have the firearm on the presence of someone in the school that can reduce the response time, it will save lives. That is the objective.

OVERBY: Hutchinson is a former congressman and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He said the task force work independently of the NRA. But the recommendations match the association's agenda from last December: Don't restrict any guns; instead, work to keep bad guys with guns out of schools.

There is one big change. The task force isn't calling for armed volunteers in schools. There were too many training and liability issues, Hutchinson said. And besides...

HUTCHINSON: My impression from school superintendents is that they would have great reluctance. And so that's not the best solution. That's why we have shifted to school staff, trained school staff as designated by the superintendent and the school board.

OVERBY: He said he hopes the School Shield program becomes a permanent operation. But it would not be cost-free. Schools would pay 800 to $1,000 to train each guard. The task force made no estimate of their year-to-year costs after that. Hutchinson said better training is urgently needed, as school systems race to protect students from the threat of armed intruders.

HUTCHINSON: Schools are undergoing that process all across America right now, without adequate direction on what is a good training program, a model training program, for armed school personnel.

OVERBY: The plan was endorsed by Mark Mattioli of Newtown, Connecticut. His son was killed in the shootings. He said he applauded the task force. And Hutchinson suggested that Congress might be able to unite around this, even as it debates mandatory background checks for gun buyers.

HUTCHINSON: I really hope that when they're seeking common ground, this will be the common ground.

OVERBY: But there is already common ground in Connecticut, where a bipartisan coalition is pushing a bill that bans large capacity magazines.

Larry Cafero, the House Republican leader in Connecticut, said lawmakers talked to everyone from Newtown parents to the NRA.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE LARRY CAFERO: I think everybody had input or at least was heard by all of us. And I think all of their views were taken into consideration when we put together this package.

OVERBY: Hutchinson dismissed it.

HUTCHINSON: I would say it's totally inadequate.

OVERBY: He said that banning big magazines or assault weapons doesn't work.

HUTCHINSON: It doesn't stop someone bringing in a 45 caliber firearm into the school. It doesn't stop violence in the schools.

OVERBY: The NRA has yet to adopt the National School Shield recommendations. And federal and state governments would have to change laws to let school staff carry guns in schools.

Peter Overby, NPR News Washington.

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