Hutchinson says armed school personnel would improve safety


WASHINGTON — With a 225-page report in hand, Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday recommended armed personnel in school buildings as a necessary layer of protection against shootings like the December massacre in Newtown, Conn.

“If you have the firearms in the presence of someone in the school, it will reduce the response time and save lives,” said Hutchinson, a former congressman and current Republican gubernatorial candidate in Arkansas who was hired by the National Rifle Association as director of its National School Shield Task Force.

He unveiled the report Tuesday at the National Press Club under tight security provided by the NRA.

The task force report includes eight recommendations, including having a web-based assessment program for school administrators to check for weaknesses in their security protocols, enhancing training for school safety officers or other personnel that would be armed, and encouraging anti-bullying measures.

Missing from the task force report are any recommendations for universal background checks, banning assault weapons or limiting the size of ammunition clips.

The NRA established the National School Shield Task Force as its initial response to the December massacre.

Adam Lanza fired off 154 shots with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle within five minutes — killing 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown — before turning a Glock handgun on himself.

President Obama has called for Congress to increase gun safety laws, including a call for universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and curbing high-capacity magazines.

The NRA is opposed to those measures.

Hutchinson said the task force was focused on improving school safety and called the most recent effort by Connecticut lawmakers to control guns “totally inadequate.”

The Connecticut legislature is preparing to approve a law that would require criminal background checks for every gun sale; expand the state’s 1993 ban on assault weapons to about 100 new weapons; ban the sale or purchase of magazines that could take more than 10 rounds of ammunition; and increase penalties for gun trafficking.

“You can address assault weapons and it doesn’t stop someone from bringing in a .45 caliber firearm into the school,” Hutchinson said. “It doesn’t stop violence in the schools, and so if you are going to protect children you have to do something about school safety.”

The families of 11 of the 26 victims complained that the Connecticut legislation is inadequate because it does not ban the possession of high-capacity magazines, only the sale.

Mark Mattiolli, whose son was killed in the Newtown massacre, joined Hutchinson at Tuesday’s news conference to urge decision-makers to consider the task force recommendations.

“Politics needs to be set aside,” Mattiolli said.

In forming the task force, the NRA had suggested that schools could turn to volunteers — retired military and police — to serve as armed resource officers. Hutchinson said the idea was basically dropped after school officials raised concerns over liability and other issues.

The eight recommendations included in the task force report are:

• Provide professional training for armed personnel in schools.

• State approval for these trained personnel to carry weapons on school property.

• A memorandum of understanding between school resource officers, local law enforcement and school districts.

• Provide an online self-assessment tool for schools to evaluate security gaps and vulnerabilities.

• Require schools to develop a security plan.

• Coordinate federal programs and funding of local school safety efforts.

• Have the National School Shield program advocate and support school safety.

• Develop pilot programs on threat assessments and mental health.