WASHINGTON (AP) – Schools across the nation should train selected staff members to carry weapons and should each have at least one armed security officer to make students safer and allow a quicker response to an attack, the director of a National Rifle Association-sponsored study said Tuesday.
Republican former Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas made the remarks as a task force he headed released its report, which included a 40- to 60-hour training program for school staff members who are qualified and can pass background checks.
“The presence of an armed security personnel in a school adds a layer of security and diminishes the response time that is beneficial to the overall security,” said Hutchinson.
Asked if every school would be better off with an armed security officer, Hutchinson replied, “Yes,” but acknowledged the decision would be made locally.
“Obviously we believe that they make a difference,” he said.
Hutchinson said the security could be provided by trained staff members or by school resource officers – police officers assigned to schools that some districts already have.
The report was released a week before the Senate plans to begin debating gun control legislation.
The NRA opposes the main feature of the legislation, an expansion of background checks to cover nearly all gun purchases. But the group has long said the school safety study would be an important response to last December’s massacre of first-graders and staff members at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said administration officials were working with lawmakers to try to reach a compromise on legislation that could be supported by both parties.
“The president has always recognized that this is something that would be a challenge but that in the wake of the horrific shootings in Newtown was an obligation of all of us to work on and try to get done,” Carney said.
The spokesman commented as the White House revealed the president plans a trip next week to Connecticut, scene of the horrific shooting that spurred the new push for gun-control legislation. The aim of Obama’s trip is to build pressure on Congress to pass legislation.
Obama also plans to focus on firearms curbs in a trip Wednesday to Denver, not far from last summer’s mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
Obama and his allies – mostly Democrats – are trying to bolster prospects that Congress will approve gun legislation. Chances of such action on Capitol Hill have waned since the Newtown shootings.
The 225-page NRA study, which Hutchinson said cost more than $1 million, made eight recommendations. They included changing state laws that might bar a trained school staff member from carrying a firearm, NRA-provided online assessments that schools could make of their safety procedures and better coordination with law enforcement agencies.
The study drew immediate opposition from the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million teachers and other workers.
“Today’s NRA proposal is a cruel hoax that will fail to keep our children and schools safe,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “It is simply designed to assist gun manufacturers” to flood the nation with more guns and large magazine clips.
Hutchinson said the NRA dropped an earlier recommendation that retired police officers and other volunteers be armed to provide school safety. He said the idea encountered “great reluctance” from school superintendents.
The NRA had suggested the retired officer idea just days after the Newtown killings.
Several NRA-supplied security guards were at Tuesday’s event – unusual for an announcement at the National Press Club, a building that houses offices for many news organizations.
Hutchinson said the NRA did not interfere with his task force’s work. In a written statement, the NRA said the report “will go a long way to making America’s schools safer.”
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