The National Rifle Association today called for a national school safety program that would involve training in security procedures and armed security personnel when called for and desired by local school districts, in a press conference in Washington.
NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne R. LaPierre said that such a program of arming the "good guys" and preparing schools to confront those like Adam Lanza, who killed 26 students and school workers and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. Asa Hutchinson, a former Drug Enforcement Agency chief and former congressman, will lead an NRA-funded initiative, which LaPierre said would provide the security program free of charge for any school that desires it.
He also called for Congress to "appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school," and to do it by the time school resumes in January.
Mike Griffith of the Education Commission of the States estimated that it would require about 128,000 full-time officers to fulfill the NRA's proposal, at the cost of about $12.2 billion each year.
LaPierre also criticized calls for more gun control in the wake of the Newtown shooting, as well as a national media and "political class" that purveys misinformation about guns and too often wastes time on legislation and gun control regulation that he said was not proven to work. Early in the press conference, he said that if the country agrees it is right to put armed security personnel in banks, sports stadiums and around the president, it should agree to implement the same, "only proven" security for school children. (He also took the opportunity to criticize President Barack Obama for eliminating the "Secure Our Schools" policing grants from the upcoming budget.)
"If we truly cherish our kids more than our money or our celebrities, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible and the security that is only available with a properly trained—armed— good guy," LaPierre said.
He also decried violent video games and films, saying that the average American witnesses 16,000 murders through such media by the time he or she turns 18. At one point, he showed a screen display of a video game called "Kindergarten Killers" (in which the player shoots people inside a school building) in support of his argument. In addition, he said the lack of a national database of the mentally ill made it impossible to know how many more "killers" were planning their next attack and planning to exploit national media attention.
Neither LaPierre, NRA President David Keene, nor Hutchinson took questions at the press conference. Hutchinson said that the NRA's sponsored school security plan would have armed security personnel as one component, but would not be essential for local school boards who did not want them. The plan would also deal with technical issues like building design and access points to help improve security even without armed personnel.
Twice during the press conference, protesters stood in front of cameras and held up banners accusing the NRA of being complicit in the murder of children. They were quickly escorted out by security at the event.
In response, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the he was disappointed that the Newtown shootings had not changed the NRA's approach to gun violence, which he said would require armed guards everywhere, from supermarkets to synagogues.
"Congress needs to ban high-capacity clips, reinstate a sensible ban on assault weapons, and dramatically increase access to quality mental health care in America as part of our effort to reduce gun violence," Miller said.
Also in response to LaPierre's comments, AFT-Pennsylvania President Ted Kirsch said in a statement that recent history proved that guns would not solve the problem: "Samuel Gompers said it in the late 1800s, and it's still true today, 'We need more books not more guns.' And we need more counselors and more social services, not an NRA campaign to turn our schools into armed camps. Remember, there was an armed sheriff's deputy stationed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, who exchanged fire with one of the shooters, and still that tragedy was not averted."
The National Education Association chimed in against the proposal, too. "Their proposal misses the fact that in many schools across the country, we have school resource officers and yet tragic incidents like Newtown, Chardon, Columbine, Paducah, and Jonesboro still have occurred," the group said.
Meanwhile, keeping a national database of the mentally ill would be a "Herculean" task, since it would have to be updated daily given people's movement on the mental health spectrum to give a truly accurate picture, said Frederick Streeck, the executive director of the School Social Work Association of America, based in Sumner, Wash. He also raised concerns about protecting the privacy of those in such a database.
"The labeling that's involved could be very unfortunate for kids and for families. It's just not something that we need to list on a national database," Streeck said.
The White House had not comment on the NRA's call to action, although in remarks earlier today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said more gun control is needed.
Photo: National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre delivers the organization's response to the Connecticut school shooting in Washington today.—Evan Vucci/AP