Leader of NRA's Newtown Response Elected Governor of Arkansas
Arkansas voters elected former Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson—who led the National Rifle Association's response to the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn.—as the state's next governor Tuesday.
Hutchinson is a former U.S. attorney who also served as administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and undersecretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, but his most recent national work was leading the NRA's National School Shield Initiative.
In the days following the shooting that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, national discussions quickly turned to responding through actions like increased school security measures, mental health efforts, and new gun laws.
The gun group quickly formed the task force to explore existing laws and policies related to school safety.
In April 2013, Hutchinson released a report detailing the National School Shield's recommendations. Most notably, the task force recommended that school officials be empowered through state and local laws to arm and train some non-police personnel if they deem it necessary.
"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," Hutchinson said when he announced the recommendations.
Civil rights groups have criticized the increased presence of police and armed guards in schools, saying officers sometimes get involved in routine discipline that would be better addressed by school administrators. Hutchinson said such concerns could be addressed through proper agreements between schools and on-campus police.
Even before the NRA's plan was released, a coalition of groups criticized it, calling for increased mental health efforts, school climate initiatives, and academic engagement.
Arkansas has had its own controversy over guns in schools.
In 2013, some school districts quietly acquired private security guard credentials for staff members and teachers so they could carry concealed weapons in schools.
They joined a few rural districts that had been using the loophole to arm staff for years. Superintendents in those rural districts said law enforcement agencies were too far away to respond quickly to a shooting, and that it would be too costly to hire designated police officers for their schools.
After a non-binding state attorney general's opinion said the districts were acquiring the credentials under a law that was actually meant for private agencies, a state licensing board for security guards halted the practice. It allowed the dozen districts involved to keep their existing guard credentials for two years but refused to provide credentials to any additional districts.
Hutchinson later presented one of those districts with a $65,000 grant from the NRA to fund its safety efforts.
There were few changes on the federal level following the Newtown shootings.
But states proposed hundreds of new laws related to mental health, school safety, and guns in educational areas during the 2013 legislative session. Those efforts experienced a small resurgence in 2014. It will be interesting to see if any shifts in state legislatures following the mid-term elections leads to any other new policies in this area.
Photo: Arkansas Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson greets supporters with his wife Susan by his side during a Republican watch party on Tuesday night in Little Rock.—Karen E. Segrave/AP