Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NRA calls for school staffers to carry guns

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WASHINGTON -- A report sponsored by the nation's largest gun lobby suggests schools train selected staffers as armed security officers -- findings that come just a week before the U.S. Senate plans to begin debating new gun legislation.

The former Republican congressman who headed the National Rifle Association study said at a news conference Tuesday there should be at least one protector with a firearm for every school, saying it would speed responses to attacks.

The report's release served as the gun-rights group's answer to improving school safety after the gruesome December slayings of 20 first-graders and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

The report showed the organization giving little ground in its fight with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has sought to curb firearms since the massacre. Obama's chief proposals include broader background checks for gun buyers and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines -- both of which the NRA opposes on constitutional grounds.

Debbie Leidlein, chairwoman of the Newtown Board of Education, said having trained staff members carry weapons "can become a dangerous situation to have any individuals outside of those who have police training to be carrying weapons around children."

The study -- unveiled at a news conference watched over by several burly, NRA-provided guards -- made eight recommendations, including easing state laws that might bar a trained school staff member from carrying firearms and improving school co-ordination with law enforcement agencies. But drawing the most attention was its suggested 40- to 60-hour training for school employees who pass background checks to also provide armed protection while at work.

"The presence of an armed security personnel in a school adds a layer of security and diminishes the response time that is beneficial to the overall security," said Asa Hutchinson, a Republican former congressman from Arkansas who directed the study.

Asked whether every school would be better off with an armed security officer, Hutchinson replied, "Yes," but acknowledged the decision would be made locally.

Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said while a trained law enforcement officer with a gun would be valuable, his group opposes arming "a teacher or an employee who simply has taken a course and now has the ability to carry a weapon."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2013 A10

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