As Democrats struggle to shepherd a slew of embattled gun laws through Congress, a group associated with and funded by the National Rifle Association (NRA) is pushing its own proposal for reducing mass shootings in schools, unveiling Tuesday a 225-page "school safety" report that recommends sending a trained, armed officer to every school in America, as well as various "layered security" measures it says will make schools safer.
Led by former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., who announced the plan in a press conference Tuesday morning, the so-called "NRA National School Shield Initiative" outlines eight recommendations it says would boost school security nationwide. Hutchinson stressed that the "initiative" is fully independent from the NRA -- which he said budgeted $1 million for the effort -- and that the pro-gun lobby was under no obligation to enforce any of its recommendations.
"The NRA has fulfilled its side of the bargain and has given us the level of independence," he said. "These recommendations are the recommendations of task force. This is our event, and the NRA will separately consider and respond to it."
Among the recommendations outlined in the report include a "model training program" that would train school resource officers to respond in crisis situations, changes in state laws where necessary so that school resource officers would be allowed to carry firearms in school, increased coordination between law enforcement and schools on security matters, the implementation of a pilot program on "threat assessment and mental health," more comprehensive requirements for schools on safety measures, and federal and NRA-sponsored resources to facilitate those requirements.
"We looked at the technology of the schools, we looked at the interior and an exterior doors, access controls, architecture and design of the schools. And then we look at the armed officers whether it's an SRO, which is a school resource officer, to the staff that may be armed or considering being armed," Hutchinson said. "And obviously, we believe they make a difference in the various layers of security that add to school safety."
Hutchinson said that, per the Shield Initiative's plan, school resource officers tasked with carrying a gun in school would have to undergo 40-60 hours of training, as well as an extensive background check, for certification to do so. He estimated that would cost about $800-1,000 per person, and that while the report does not recommend a specific number of trained, armed SROs per school, each should have at least one.
"Let me emphasize, this is not talking about all teachers," he said. "Teachers should teach. But if there is a personnel that has good experience and has an interest in it, and is willing to go through this training of, again, 40 to 60 hours that is totally comprehensive, then that is an appropriate resource that a school should be able to utilize."
The group also recommended a free "online self-assessment" tool for schools -- courtesy of its website -- that would lay out best practices for school safety and allow school administrators to assess any "gaps in their own security" and possible solutions.
"Right now schools either have to go out and hire an expert or they struggle around with local law enforcement to develop their security policies," he said. "This online assessment tool is available for any school -- parochial, private or a public school -- free of charge on the website."
Presumably the NRA would fund this operation, as well as the NRA "umbrella organization" Hutchinson proposed his initiative become.
In the aftermath of December's Newtown shootings, when 20 first graders were slain at school by a lone gunman armed with guns loaded with high-capacity magazine clips, the Obama administration has led a vigilant effort to pass a comprehensive package of gun laws aimed at reducing gun violence in America. Among those measures included an assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity magazines, universal background checks, and measures making gun trafficking a federal crime.
Those measures, however, have come up against staunch opposition from Republican lawmakers -- as well as some Democrats -- and the NRA is believed to be a driving force behind the GOP's ongoing, and often uncompromising, opposition to any new gun laws.
In recent weeks, the momentum for an assault weapons ban has all but evaporated, and Senate Democrats are furiously searching for the necessary support to pass a bill mandating universal background checks. Even the gun trafficking bill, which was co-sponsored by a Republican and is headed toward a full Senate vote, is threatened by the prospect of NRA-circulated language for a provision that would essentially gut it, according to a new report by the Washington Post.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., a co-sponsor of the gun trafficking bill, urged House Republicans not to pass a measure he said "waters down the bill tremendously," and called on Congress take the recent tragedies at Newtown and beyond as an opportunity to enact change.
"I do believe that when you have these transformative moments they are pregnant with opportunity to make a difference," he said, speaking Tuesday morning before the NRA's report was unveiled. "And if we do not act in those moments then things will likely only get worse."
Cummings said he was open to the group's proposals -- despite the fact that "having more guns in schools I don't think is necessarily the answer" -- and that he'd rather work with the lobby than against it.
But Hutchinson's plan, unsurprisingly, eschews any kind of legislation that would impose tougher laws on would-be gun owners, which has been the primary Democratic channel for enacting change. Moreover, Mother Jones points out that Hutchinson is on the board of directors at Pinkerton Government Services, a subsidiary of Securitas, a major private security contractor, and could ostensibly stand to benefit if the recommendations are enacted.
Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, argued in a statement that the proposal "includes potentially radical elements, including getting the federal government in the business of supplying arms to teachers, without any evidence that doing so would make children safer."
"It is important to create a culture of trust between students and teachers, and arming teachers is the antithesis of that, especially in the 19 states where corporal punishment is still allowed in schools," Murphy said. "We are concerned about the potential civil liberties implications this proposal could have for students, who all too often are funneled from schools into the criminal justice system. We hope the NRA addresses these concerns and that Congress will reject any proposal that militarizes our schools."
The NRA, for its part, says it hasn't yet staked out a position on Hutchinson's recommendations.
"We need time to digest the full report," the NRA said in a statement. "We commend Asa Hutchinson for his rapid response in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, and we are certain the contributions he and his team have made will go a long way to making America's schools safer."