"Yet when it comes to our most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless," he said. "And the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it. That must change now."
He called on Congress to immediately appropriate funding to pay for police officers in every school "to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January." He envisions for the long term a volunteer school security force.
Meanwhile, the NRA asked former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), who also was undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to lead a team of security experts to develop a model school safety plan.
Hutchinson said his team would 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," Hutchinson said. He added that the program would not depend on local or federal funding, but would draw on volunteers.
The idea drew immediate criticism from gun control advocates, who noted that two armed police officers were on the scene of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. They engaged in gunfire with Eric Harris, one of the shooters, but were unable to stop him.
"The idea of having armed guards has been tried and failed," said Kristen Rand, legislative policy director of the Violence Policy Center.
Putting armed volunteers in schools carries risks, said Kevin Quinn, president of the National Assn. of School Resource Officers, which represents police officers who work in schools. The group is in favor of more armed police officers on campuses but not allowing staffers or volunteers to carry guns.
He said police responding to an emergency at a school "could run into an ID issue in terms of who is the good guy, who is the bad guy."
The NRA plan also faces serious legal and political roadblocks. Federal law and the laws in most states prohibit firearms in and around elementary and high schools.
Still, there is broad support for beefing up police presence in schools. Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Assn., who attended a White House meeting on gun violence Thursday, said his group supported assigning a uniformed, armed police officer in every school.
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.
Lisa Mascaro, Christi Parsons and Richard Simon in the Washington bureau and John Horn in Los Angeles contributed to this report.