Schools 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.
Local school officials said they are still analyzing the NRA’s recommendations, but most said they were concentrating on making school entrances and procedures more secure and working with local law enforcement on ways to boost security.
A spokesman for the non-profit Buckeye Firearms Association, which is launching teacher and staff firearms training programs in Ohio, said more schools are at least considering that option, however.
“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.
“The state of Ohio is ahead of the NRA because we already have crisis plans in place required by law,” said George Long, business manager for Middletown and Monroe schools.
In partnership with respective law enforcement agencies, the Middletown City School District utilizes three school resource officers and one is used in Monroe Local Schools, Long said.
“School resource officers act as an extension of the police department and build relationships with students to offset potential crimes,” Long said.
School officials have said working with police departments can help offset additional costs — such as $57,427 paid by the Monroe Police Department to provide a school resource officer.
“Just like car safety has improved and home safety, so has school safety,” said Long, who has more than 20 years experience in public schools. “Technology has allowed us to improve safety, and partnerships with cities.”
Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones said the school districts and law enforcement agencies in Butler County work together in training so that responses can be uniform from one school to another. He said officers retain “muscle memory” by training in school buildings during times they are empty.
Jones’ new Operation Safe Schools program is increasing police presence in schools by requiring deputies working on patrol to stop by each school in their assigned geographical area. He said this includes 30 schools in Butler County so far.
“You can’t wait for the federal government to come up with these programs or give you free money,” Jones said.
Long said he’s pleased there’s research being conducted on school safety, but added the school districts in Monroe and Middletown take their official cues from the Ohio Department of Education.
“We’re always looking to improve security for our students; first and foremost is security so that education and learning can happen,” Long said.
Warren County resident Joe Eaton, southwest Ohio chair of the Buckeye Firearms group, believes opposition to gun training for teachers and school staff is declining.
“More schools are showing a willingness to try new approaches, not just return the the knee-jerk reaction of the past that focused on restricting the ownership of firearms. That’s a positive step,” he said.
“The NRA program dovetails nicely with our educational initiatives. About 400 teachers from across Ohio attended our seminar on how to prepare for and prevent violence in the schools. Twenty-four teachers attended our first three-day Tactical Defense Institute and we’ve now raised funds to train 75 more.”
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