WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Assn.’s proposal Friday to finance a National Model School Shield Program in which armed volunteers would be stationed at every school in America was quickly slammed by gun control advocates who accused the group of ducking its role in gun violence.
“I have never seen a more precise example of how out of touch the NRA’s Washington lobbyists are with the NRA’s membership,” said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
“If there is a need for security at our elementary schools today, it is largely because the NRA’s Washington leadership has gutted the gun laws that used to keep schools and day cares and churches safe,” Glaze added. “Thanks for the proposal, but we would have preferred that you apologize for causing the problem.”
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Kristen Rand, legislative policy director of the Violence Prevention Center, called the NRA’s plan “more than cynical.”
“There’s nothing to address the problem of the availability of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” she said. “The idea of having armed guards has been tried and failed.”
Rand noted that two armed police officers were on the scene of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. They engaged in gunfire with Eric Harris, one of the shooters, but were unable to stop him.
Under the plan announced at news conference Friday by NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre, the NRA will sponsor a team of security experts to develop a model school safety plan. Former Arkansas Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who served as undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, will lead the effort.
Hutchinson said he took the assignment on the condition that his team will operate independently “and will be guided solely by what are the best security solutions for the safety of our children while at school.”
“Armed, trained, qualified school security personnel will be one element of that plan but by no means the only element,” he said.
Hutchinson said the program will not depend on local or federal funding, but instead draw on volunteers.
“Whether they're retired police, retired military or rescue personnel, I think there are people in every community in this country who would be happy to serve, if only someone asked them, and gave them the training and certifications to do so,” he said, adding that the NRA “is the natural, obvious choice to sponsor this program.”
While putting armed volunteers in schools is a controversial idea, there is broad support for beefing up police presence in schools. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced two new bills this week to upgrade security in schools and reimburse governors who want to deploy National Guard troops to protect students on campuses. She called on the NRA to support her legislation.
And Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Assn., who attended a White House gun task force meeting Thursday, said his group supports assigning a uniformed, armed police officer in every school.
But Adler sharply disagreed with LaPierre’s contention that creating gun-free school zones “tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”
In an interview, Adler called LaPierre’s comments “fatally delusional.”
“Politicians should be praised for those laws, which are deterrent to keep gun-wielding lunatics away from these schools,” Adler said. “His twisted interpretation is mind-boggling.”
Democratic lawmakers sharply rebuked LaPierre’s defiant speech, while Republicans did not immediately react.
Chris Murphy, the newly elected Connecticut senator, tweeted his response: “Walking out of another funeral and was handed the NRA transcript. The most revolting, tone deaf statement I've ever seen.”
California Rep. Mike Thompson, chairman of a congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said in a statement that “we need a comprehensive approach that goes beyond just arming more people with more guns to make this happen.”
“The head of the NRA blamed everyone in sight – except his own organization – for gun violence in America, and showed himself to be completely out of touch by ignoring the proliferation of weapons of war on our streets,’’ Boxer said.
U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) expressed “utter disbelief” at the NRA response.
“It is beyond belief that following the Newtown tragedy, the National Rifle Association’s leaders want to fill our communities with guns and arm more Americans,’’ Lautenberg said. “The NRA points the finger of blame everywhere and anywhere it can, but they cannot escape the devastating effects of their reckless comments and irresponsible lobbying tactics.”
Lisa Mascaro and Richard Simon contributed to this report.