WASHINGTON – The National Rifle Association tapped a Newtown parent who lost a son in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings to help it unveil a proposal Tuesday that recommended putting armed personnel in the nation's schools.
At a press conference Tuesday, Mark Mattioli, whose son James died in the Sandy Hook massacre, supported the NRA's initiative, made public the week before the U.S. Senate begins a gun-control debate.
The NRA's “National School Shield” report makes eight recommendations, including training and arming at least one school staff member and implementing school safety plans.
“These are common-sense steps,” Mattioli said.
After the Newtown shootings, the NRA put Asa Hutchinson, a former Arkansas lawmaker and Drug Enforcement Administration chief, in charge of a new initiative. While Hutchinson said every school and school district should tailor its safety plan to specific needs and circumstances, he rejected measures backed by the Newtown school district and many Connecticut teachers.
Polls show a majority of Connecticut teachers back tougher gun control laws and reject arming school personnel.
Hutchinson said adopting new gun laws like the bans of assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazine clips proposed in Connecticut is “completely inadequate.”
“It does not stop someone from bringing in a 45-caliber weapon to a school,” he said.
For the most part, Hutchinson steered clear of the debate on gun control touched off by the massacre in Newtown.
“We want the debate focused on school safety,” he said. “We have not focused on the separate debate in Congress about, you know, firearms and how they should be dealt with.”
There were more than a dozen armed guards at the press conference held at the National Press Club.
Hutchinson told questioning reporters the tight security was not unusual.
“If you go into a mall, there's security,” he said.
When asked by a reporter if he was fearful of anything, Hutchinson responded “there's nothing I'm afraid of.”
The NRA is lobbying lawmakers to reject proposals Congress will begin to consider next week, including an expansion of FBI background checks of gun purchasers and new federal penalties for gun trafficking. Four Republican senators have already said they will block the legislation, so a 60-vote majority will be needed to move the gun-control bills forward.
In part to pressure lawmakers, President Obama will visit the University of Hartford Monday to press for “common-sense measures to reduce gun violence.”
The White House did not comment on the NRA's gun safety proposal.
But Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., the head of a Democratic House task force on gun control, said the NRA's solution would make schools less safe.
“We should do everything we can to keep our kids safe, and that includes having school resource officers in those schools that want them, and urging our communities to develop safety plans in case of emergencies,” Thompson said. “However, arming school personnel and training them for shootouts will only exacerbate problems. “
Hutchinson said it would take $800 to $1,000 to train each armed school official. He said those costs, and others, could be paid out of federal crime-fighting grants and other programs in the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services.