NRA-funded panel urges training armed guards at schools
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A task force funded by the National Rifle Association, the top U.S. gun rights group, unveiled a plan on Tuesday to train armed security personnel in every school in response to the December school massacre in Connecticut - a proposal swiftly condemned by gun control advocates.
The task force led by Asa Hutchinson - a former Drug Enforcement Administration chief, Republican congressman and Homeland Security Department official - unveiled 225 pages of proposals that follow December's call by NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre for placing armed guards in all schools.
The task force recommended 40 to 60 hours of training - to be developed and carried out by the NRA - for armed security officers or staff members in each school.
"Obviously, we believe they will make a difference in the various layers that make up school safety," Hutchinson told reporters at a news conference marked by unusually heavy security for a media event.
"This is not talking about all teachers. Teachers should teach," Hutchinson added.
The NRA, known for its influence in Congress, has vigorously fought gun control legislation and has touted armed security personnel as the solution to school violence.
President Barack Obama called for new gun control measures after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults on December 14 at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Gun control advocates appear to be losing momentum in Congress even before the Senate is due to take up legislation this month.
LaPierre's call in the days after the Newtown massacre for armed guards in all American schools was heavily criticized by gun control supporters.
'MISSING THE POINT'
"Once again, the NRA leadership is missing the point," the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun control group, said of the task force recommendations.
"The American public is calling for a comprehensive solution that not only addresses tragic school shootings, but also helps prevent the thousands of senseless gun deaths each year," the group added, touting expanded background checks for gun buyers and other gun control proposals in Congress.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the task force recommendations would fail to keep schools safe and urged Congress to pass new gun control laws.
While the NRA commissioned the task force's study, Hutchinson said his 12-member panel was fully independent. The task force included a former Secret Service head, police and security officers, and representatives from Phoenix RBT Solutions, a law enforcement training firm.
The task force also recommended security accords between schools and law enforcement, state safety standards and improved federal coordination for school safety. It called for adoption of a model state law for armed school staffers and a program to assess threats and support the mental health of students.
The NRA commended Hutchinson for his work and said it would review the recommendations. The group said it was "determined to continue to use every asset at its disposal to help make America's children safe at school."
Mark Mattioli, whose son was among the children killed in Newtown, attended the news conference and said he welcomed the recommendations as "real solutions that will make our kids safer. And that's what we need."
The American Civil Liberties Union said the task force proposals could get the federal government in the business of supplying arms to teachers and heighten the risk that students could be funneled into the criminal justice system.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, an advocacy group, also condemned the proposal.
The Democratic-controlled Senate, seen as more friendly to gun control legislation than the Republican-led House of Representatives, is due to take up legislation this month.
But proposals backed by Obama to ban assault weapons and crack down on high-capacity ammunition clips appear unlikely to pass, and universal background checks face a tough fight.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. No major gun legislation has passed the U.S. Congress since 1994.
At the state level, legislative leaders in Connecticut on Monday agreed to some of the toughest gun regulations in the nation and expected to adopt them this week.
Asked about the Connecticut legislation, Hutchinson said it would be "totally inadequate" for school safety.
(Editing by Will Dunham)