WASHINGTON (CNN) — A commission tasked by the nation’s most influential gun lobby to assess school safety proposed a set of recommendations Tuesday that includes a plan to train and arm adults as a way to protect kids from shooters.
Former GOP congressman Asa Hutchinson, who headed the National Rifle Association-backed School Safety Shield, said the plan to train school personnel to carry firearms in schools made sense as a way to prevent shootings like the December massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
“Response time is critical,” Hutchinson said at a press conference revealing the plan.
“If you have the firearms in the presence of someone in the school, it will reduce the response time and save lives,” he said.
Hutchinson said the recommendation for school personnel to carry weapons includes the stipulation those adults undergo a 40-60 hour training program and are screened through a background check.
The entire report contains eight recommendations, including enhancing training programs for school resource officers and developing an online assessment portal for administrators to gauge their schools’ security.
Hutchinson noted at the press conference Tuesday that many schools have visitor policies that aren’t enforced and doors that aren’t properly secured. Fixing those, he said, would be a step toward preventing further school violence.
He was joined by Mark Mattiolli, whose 6-year-old son James was among the 20 students killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. Mattiolli, who Hutchinson described as a “special guest” at the recommendations’ unveiling, urged lawmakers to look past their notions of the NRA when reading the group’s plan.
“Politics need to be set aside here, and I hope this doesn’t lead to name calling,” Mattiolli said. “These are recommendations for solutions. And that’s what we need. We need to look at that appendix and we need to do something.”
The NRA first announced the National School Shield Program in December as its response to the Newtown school shooting a week earlier. It posted a bare-bones website and pledged to report back with a set of school safety proposals.
Hutchinson said Tuesday those proposals were directed at federal and state lawmakers, as well as the NRA itself, which will now decide which of the items to official adopt as recommendations.
Immediately following the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told reporters, supporters and a few vocal protesters, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
“Why is the idea of a gun good when it’s used to protect our president or our country or our police, but bad when it’s used to protect our children in their schools? They’re our kids,” he said.
LaPierre, the longtime face of the organization, stood firm to that position and hasn’t wavered despite immense criticism and pressure.
Some lawmakers in several states have considered proposals to arm and train teachers. While the Obama administration hasn’t ruled out some form of armed protection on school property, Vice President Joe Biden made it clear the idea wasn’t his top priority. In a conference call last week with supporters, Biden indicated he preferred background checks be performed on all gun sales and took issue with the idea of arming legislators.
“The last thing we need, and ask any teacher, is to arm teachers … Turn schools into armed camps,” he said.
“But what does make sense is if a school decides they want to have a school resource officer – that is a sworn shield, someone who is a sworn police officer, in or out of uniform, armed or unarmed, depending on what the school wants – in the school to be able to have contact with and build relationships with not only the staff but the students in that school,” he said.
Funding such programs remains a key sticking point between the White House and the NRA, including how lawmakers would dole out the grant money to local schools.
Recent public polling shows the nation is divided on whether or not schools should increase the number of armed guards.