WASHINGTON _ A National Rifle Association task force on Tuesday recommended a training program to help arm school personnel as a way of preventing a repeat of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took 26 lives in Newtown, Conn.
“This is probably the one item that catches everybody’s attention,’’ said Asa Hutchinson, former Arkansas lawmaker and DEA administrator whom the NRA contracted to come up with school safety recommendations after Newtown.
“This is not talking about all teachers; teachers should teach,’’ Hutchinson said at a packed news conference called to roll out the NRA National School Shield Program’s eight recommendations for improved school safety.
“But if (a teacher or other school employee) has good experience and has an interest in it, and is willing to go through (40 to 60 hours of) training, then that is an appropriate resource that a school should be able to utilize.’’
Hutchinson spoke as the Senate gears up to consider a package of gun-control proposals that the NRA adamantly opposes, including universal background checks and stiffer penalties for “straw purchasers’’ who buy guns on behalf of criminals and others not qualified to own them.
Hutchinson generally sidestepped questions on the politically charged issue of gun control vs. gun rights, telling reporters he was focused on school safety _ an area, he said, where all sides of the gun debate can find “common ground.’’
Mark Mattioli, father of a Sandy Hook victim, attended the press conference and praised the NRA-sponsored school shield program as “comprehensive.’’
“I think politics needs to be sort of set aside here, and I hope this doesn’t lead to name-calling,’’ he said. He called the task force recommendations “real solutions that will make our kids safer, and that’s what we need.’’
Hutchinson’s task force of 12 included former Secret Service officials, a former Air Force colonel and security experts with government and private sector experience.
The report and presentation at times seemed to parallel dry recommendations of a private security service for improved home or office protection, with an emphasis on more secure doors, windows and locks, better monitoring of visitors and improved “perimeter fencing.’’
Among the recommendations apart from arming school personnel and revisions of state laws to permit it:
_ An online security self-assessment school to help school officials identify weak spots.
_ Designation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where Hutchinson worked as an official during the presidency of George W. Bush, as the lead agency to direct federal efforts aimed at school security.
_ Agreements between schools and police departments for “school resource officers,’’ police officers assigned to individual schools for security purposes as well as educating school staff and watching out for potential juvenile crime problems. There are about 10,000 such officers working schools nationwide, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Hutchinson called Connecticut’s legislative agreement on gun control, which includes an assault weapons ban, “totally inadequate.’’
An assault weapons ban “doesn’t stop someone bringing in a .45 caliber firearm in the school,’’ Hutchinson said. “If you’re going to protect children, you have to do something about school safety and enhancing our safety measures in schools. It can be done.’’