The National Rifle Association wants school personnel armed and ready in case of another school shooting.
Asa Hutchinson, director of the National Rifle Association’s National School Shield Task Force, laid out the gun lobby’s 225-page plan to keep schools safer on Tuesday in Washington. The NRA established the National School Shield Task Force as its initial response to the Newtown, Connecticut school tragedy in December.
Mark Mattioli, whose son killed at Sandy Hook, appeared at the press conference. “This is a comprehensive program,” he said, according to various news outlets. “I think politics needs to be set aside here and I hope this doesn’t lead to name calling. ... This is recommendations for solutions, real solutions that will make out kids safer, that's what we need.”
The task force listed eight recommendations for schools. The most striking recommendation involves schools training teachers and other school personnel to carry guns to protect students. These guns, according to Hutchinson, could range from “sidearms, to shotguns, to AR-15s.”
But some education experts don’t think arming personnel is a step in the right direction.
“While the tragedy in Sandy Hook and other schools around the country has been thoroughly awful, arming our teachers and school administrators is the wrong approach to controlling such rare outbreaks of violence,” Kelly Welch, a criminal justice professor at Villanova University, told TakePart.
School personnel who are willing to participate would undergo 40 to 60 hours of firearms training.
“Changing the function of our educators to that of security patrollers will only result in poorer educational outcomes and increased discipline for non-violent student behaviors.” Welch added. “Further, this could result in increased gun violence in schools. Policy responses to school shootings should not involve the arming of our educators, but rather, focus on the root of the problem.”
Other recommendations include: an online threat assessment tool for schools crafted by the school shield experts to evaluate risks; proper training programs for school resource officers; further funding and coordination on issues of school safety between the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Department of Education and changes to state laws to allow school personnel to carry weapons while still in training.
The NRA also wants states to make school safety part of their educational requirements and create a pilot program to assess threats and mental health.
Richard Broughton, an assistant professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, previously served in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. He's been involved in the federal prosecutions of violent crime related to gang activity, drug trafficking, organized crime, and racketeering. He told TakePart on Tuesday that gun crime is such a serious problem in the United States that every proposal on the table should be examined.
This NRA task force, which includes some serious people, has put a plan on the table that is at least worth some further reflection and research.
“We should be willing to consider—not necessarily adopt, but at least consider—all serious proposals to protect our families and communities,” he said. “Say what you will about the NRA and its leadership, which has certainly taken some extreme and even bizarre positions with respect to gun rights and gun regulation. But this NRA task force, which includes some serious people, has put a plan on the table that is at least worth some further reflection and research.”
In January, President Barack Obama unveiled a sweeping gun-control agenda that encompassed 23 proposals which include background checks, law enforcement, gun violence research, school safety, and mental health. At that time, Obama said he wanted to reinstate and strengthen the ban on assault weapons as well as limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds. The NRA is against such a ban.
Vice President Joe Biden said in January, “The last thing we need to do is be arming school teachers and administrators.”
In the next week, Senate Democrats are expected to consider a package of new gun laws. With Republicans and Democrats poised to battle about gun control, it’s unclear what policy will be right for our schools.
“I’m not sure there is a “best” policy, but there are things we can at least try, and the best approach is probably a comprehensive one that combines various deterrents with strong prosecutorial tools and enhanced punishments,” Broughton said. “To do something sensible, though, both ends of the political spectrum have to get past their disdain for one another that could ultimately get in the way of effective public policy.”
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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com