Every school should consider having someone inside with a gun, according to National School Shield Task Force director Asa Hutchinson. NBC's Pete Williams reports.
Months after the National Rifle Association first floated the idea of getting more armed staffers in schools to prevent another Sandy Hook massacre, the idea is slowly gaining traction in some states and districts.
On Tuesday, the NRA fleshed-out leader Wayne LaPierre’s initial response to the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. The report included a model program on how to train and arm school personnel to respond in the event of an active shooter.
The goal is to “give the schools more tools to respond quickly and reduce the loss of lives,” former Republican congressman Asa Hutchinson said while presenting the report.
LaPierre's idea was mocked by some political leaders when it was first proposed in Decmeber -- “What’s next? Armed guards at Starbucks and Little League games?” asked California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat.
But polling suggests Americans are open to armed guards or staffers, and some lawmakers and school leaders are moving forward.
The Florida House Education Subcommittee approved a bill at the end of March that would arm employees by allowing principals or district superintendents to select individuals to be exempted from prohibitions on carrying firearms on school property.
Tennessee school districts would be allowed to hire additional security personnel or arm a staff member under new legislation.
“This is just an option for those schools who don’t have school resource officers,” Tennessee Rep. Eric Watson, a Republican, told a local newspaper. “This gives schools an option to hire their own security or want staff members willing to serve in that security capacity. Of course, they have to go through a lot of series of training to get to that point.”
Watson’s bill would require that applicants pass an 8-hour handgun safety course. Critics of bills like the one in Tennessee have questioned how much training should be required before someone is allowed to carry a gun in a building full of children.
“Is it a good idea to have private citizens who have had a few hours of training bringing guns into schools? Probably not,” said Arkadi Gerney, a Center for American Progress fellow who works on gun policy. “That may end up creating risks instead of reducing risks.”
The Connecticut towns of North Branford and Enfield have already approved the placement of armed guards in all of their public schools.
“We want to throw as many hurdles as we can before an armed gunman can get into a building,” Enfield police Chief Carl Sferrazza said in March, The Associated Press reported. A job listing for a part-time armed school security officer is now posted on the department’s website. A section listing “Tools & Equipment Used” names one item: “Handgun.”
Guards began patrolling the schools in Marlboro, N.J., barely two weeks after the Newtown, the first school in the state to bring in armed officers after the shooting.
The measure drew skepticism from Republican Governor Chris Christie, who said placing guards among students risked turning school buildings into “an armed camp for kids.”
“I don’t think that’s a positive example for children,” Christie said. “We should be able to figure out some other ways to enhance safety, it seems to me.”
For the most part, critics say, there's been something less than a national movement to embrace arming school staffers.
“It doesn’t look like a serious effort, certainly not a serious national effort to address the real problem,” said Jon Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “There really isn’t any evidence that that sort of thing is effective.”
Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio caused a stir in February when he recruited action film star Steven Seagal to train a group of volunteers in what the self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff” said were exercises in how to protect against school shooters.
“I am here to try to teach the posse firearms and martial arts to try to help them learn how to respond quicker and help protect our children,” Seagal said, according to Reuters.
As lawmakers continue to debate tighter federal regulations on firearms, the rifle association’s decision to focus on school guards steers attention from other gun bills that could do more to curb gun violence, Gerney said.
“To think of that as the only answer is a distraction and an effort to shift the debate away from the measures that are going to shift the debate from measures that would really make a difference,” Gerney said. “The best way to make our kids safer whether they’re in school or not in school is to make it harder for bad guys to get guns in the first place.”