NRA-funded proposal seeks armed personnel in US schools

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A study funded by the National Rifle Association (NRA) released on Tuesday proposed that armed personnel be stationed in every United States (US) school in response to December's school massacre in Connecticut.

The proposal by the National School Shield Task Force also includes security accords between schools and law enforcement, an online safety assessment tool for schools, state safety standards and improved federal coordination for school safety.

Mr Asa Hutchinson, the panel's director, said having a trained and armed security officer or staff member in each school was a key element of the proposal.

"Obviously, we believe they will make a difference in the various layers that make up school safety," Mr Hutchinson, a former congressman, told a news conference held under unusually heavy security. "This is not talking about all teachers. Teachers should teach."

Security officers and staffers would need 40 to 60 hours of training that would cost US$800 (S$992) to US$1,000 each.

While the NRA commissioned the 225-page, US$1 million study, Mr Hutchinson said his panel was fully independent. The 12-member task force included former Secret Service head Ralph Basham, police and security officers and five representatives from Phoenix RBT Solutions, a law enforcement training firm.

The NRA said it needed time to study the report and commended Mr Hutchinson for his work. The NRA "is determined to continue to use every asset at its disposal to help make America's children safe at school", it said in a statement.

The report's recommendations said the NRA could develop and carry out armed personnel training. Given school funding shortfalls, the National School Shield programme also could step in with NRA backing to support safety programmes.

The panel also called for adoption of a model state law for armed school staffers and a programme to assess threats and support the mental health of students.

SAFER KIDS

The gun lobby's proposal follows the Dec 14 massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 students and six adults were killed.

Mr Mark Mattioli, whose son was among the slain Newtown students, said he welcomed the recommendations and applauded the panel's work.

"This is recommendations for solutions, real solutions that will make our kids safer. And that's what we need," he told the news conference.

Mr Hutchinson's proposal was similar to the post-Newtown call by NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre for armed guards in all US schools. The suggestion drew strong criticism from gun control advocates and the biggest US teachers'union.

In a statement, Ms Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the new proposal would fail to keep schools safe. She urged Congress to enact gun-control legislation.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the proposal could get the federal government in the business of supplying arms to teachers and heighten the risk that students could be funnelled into the criminal justice system.

Ms Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defence Fund, an advocacy group, also condemned the proposal. So, too, did the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, which said the report "is not the conversation the American people want to have".

The Newtown massacre galvanised the US debate over firearms. Gun ownership is protected by the US Constitution and no major gun legislation has passed Congress since 1994.

Lawmakers are scaling back President Barack Obama's ambitions for sweeping gun control measures made after the Newtown killings.

Gun-control advocates say expanded background checks would be the most effective way to reduce gun violence. While such a measure could pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, it faces long odds in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold the majority.

On the state level, legislative leaders in Connecticut said late on Monday that they had agreed to some of the toughest gun regulations in the nation and expected to adopt them this week.

Asked about the Connecticut legislation, Mr Hutchinson said it would be "totally inadequate" for school safety.