Longtime gun lobby ally to lead plan for armed guards at schools
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In 2006, a political ad swept through the state of Arkansas, touting Asa Hutchinson's values as "shaped in rural Arkansas, a half-mile down a dirt road."
In his unsuccessful bid for governor, the former federal prosecutor and U.S. congressman touted his conservative political views and garnered a strong endorsement from the National Rifle Association, a powerful U.S. gun lobby.
On Friday, the NRA announced that Hutchinson - also a former Homeland Security official and now a lawyer predominantly focused on white-collar crime - will spearhead an effort to put armed guards at schools in hopes of preventing mass shootings like the one on December 14 in Connecticut that killed 20 young children and 6 adults.
"School safety is a complex issue with no simple, single solution," Hutchinson said at Friday's news conference. "But I believe trained, qualified, armed security is one key component among many that can provide the first line of deterrence as well as the last line of defense.
His effort, dubbed the National School Shield Program, would have a "budget provided by the NRA of whatever scope the task requires." It will focus on producing a security model, which may rely on local volunteers as armed security guards and would be offered for adoption at every school in America free of charge, NRA officials said.
Opponents of the plan say the United States needs to tighten gun controls rather than introduce more guns into school environments.
NRA has contributed more than $30,000 to Hutchinson's various political campaigns for state and federal offices over more than a decade, becoming one of his top backers, according to the Sunlight Foundation that tracks money in politics.
In a brief stint as a registered lobbyist at Washington law firm Venable LLP Hutchinson in 2007 represented Point Blank Body Armor, a maker of body armor for the U.S. Army, according to another money-tracking group Center for Responsive Politics,.
Hutchinson, now 62, was the youngest U.S. Attorney in the country, when Republican President Ronald Reagan appointed the then-31-year-old to the post in 1982.
In what his political ads later touted as a character-forming experience, Hutchinson at the time put on a flak jacket to negotiate a stand-off between local, state and federal law enforcement and a white supremacist group known as The Covenant, The Sword and The Arm of the Lord.
After unsuccessful bids for Senate and Arkansas state attorney general, Hutchinson became a congressman in 1996, replacing his brother Tim Hutchinson in the U.S. House of Representatives. He later serving as one of the managers during the impeachment of Democratic President Bill Clinton.
At the time, he voted for a bill that would have shortened the waiting time for gun buyers for any necessary background checks to 24 hours.
Hutchinson later went on to become the administrator at the Drug Enforcement Administration and the first under-secretary of the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security under Republican President George W. Bush.
In 2006, he returned to Arkansas for his unsuccessful run for governor, during which he briefly came under fire from his Democratic opponent Mike Beebe for airing an attack ad that featured children delivering the anti-Beebe message, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at the time.
In an interview with the newspaper in October 2006, Hutchinson also shared his enthusiasm for hunting deer and other game and said his favorite hunting firearms were "a Remington 12-gauge shotgun and a Remington bolt-action .308 deer rifle."
"I think promoting hunting and shooting sports in general is a strong tradition in Arkansas, and it's a tradition that dies out if it is not passed on to the next generation," he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
When asked about the connection between hunting weapons and the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Americans the right to bear arms, he said: "To me, it's a matter of freedom, it's a matter of history and tradition, and it's a matter of self-protection."
(Additional reporting by Suzi Parker in Arkansas; editing by Andrew Hay)