WASHINGTON, April 2 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) – A task force funded by the powerful US gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), in the wake of last year’s Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre recommended on Tuesday that teachers and school staff should be trained to carry guns and that armed police officers should be placed at schools across the country.
In the event of a school shooting, “The one thing we know is that the response time is critical, and if you reduce the response time, if you have a firearm on an armed security personnel in the school, that will save lives,” said former US Rep. Asa Hutchinson, an NRA-paid consultant who led the National School Shield Task Force, during a packed Washington news conference.
"The presence of armed security personnel in a school adds a layer of security and diminishes the response time that is beneficial to the overall security,” he added.
Hutchinson said the group backed away from an earlier suggestion that schools use armed volunteers because school officials were not comfortable with the idea. He said training for armed school personnel would cost an estimated $1,000 per person.
Other task force recommendations listed in the 225-page report include changing state laws to allow armed officers in schools; a comprehensive, 40-60 hour training program for armed personnel; a pilot program on threat assessment and mental health, so schools can consistently identify bullying and recommend counseling; and a free, online assessment from the NRA so schools could determine their best safety procedures and pinpoint areas of vulnerability.
The task force was convened after the shooting rampage in December that claimed the lives of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The group assessed security at six schools of various sizes across the US and interviewed scores of educators, parents and law enforcement officers.
"We looked at the technology of the schools. We looked at interior and exterior doors, access controls, architecture and design of the schools. And then we looked at the armed officers," Hutchinson said. "And obviously, we believe they make a difference in the various layers of security that add to school safety."
The report was released just days before the US Senate is scheduled to begin debate on gun control legislation, as congressional support for stricter gun measures appears to be slipping. A ban on assault weapons has already been removed from the bill under consideration, and even measures that have overwhelming public support – like background checks – are not certain.
The task force recommendations drew a fiery response Tuesday from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a union that represents an estimated 1.5 million teachers and school staff.
The NRA proposal “is a cruel hoax that will fail to keep our children and schools safe,” and will help gun makers “flood the nation and our schools with more guns and large magazine clips, which will simply lead to more violence,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten in a statement.
"If we are serious about protecting our children and our communities, Congress must reject the NRA's dangerous posturing,” she added, and asked, "How many children have to be gunned down before Congress summons the political will to act?"
“The NRA is motivated by profit, and these recommendations are really just a way to sell more guns and more ammunition. They clearly do not have the best interest of our children in mind,” said Shannon Watts, Founder of Moms Demand Action, a grass roots advocacy group that supports gun control laws, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
“We are not going to send our kids to schools that are like fortresses or prisons, and we are not going to let that be the future of America,” she added.
But the father of a six-year-old boy who was killed in the Newtown massacre attended the task force press conference and said the recommendations would help make schools safer in America, “so people don’t have to go through what I’m going through.”
"We send our children off to school. There are certain expectations and obviously in Sandy Hook, those expectations were not met," said Mark Mattioli, whose son James was among those who died. "These are recommendations for real solutions that will make our schools safer, and I wanted to take a minute and applaud the NRA for coming up and spending the time and resources on putting a program like this together.”
The NRA, distancing itself from the report, said it needed time to digest the recommendations of the task force.
“The National Rifle Association is determined to continue to use every asset at its disposal to help make America's children safe at school. We commend Asa Hutchinson for his rapid response in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, and we are certain the contributions he and his team have made will go a long way to making America's schools safer,” the group said in a statement.