NRA President David Keene says the decision to arm teachers should be left… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )
Breaking a weeklong silence after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Wayne LaPierre was unapologetic and unambiguous as he stood before a pack of reporters and a phalanx of cameras.
"I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is
necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it
now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children
return to school in January," LaPierre, the vice president of the National Rifle Assn., said.
That was a week ago.
But on Thursday, the NRA's president, David Keene, struck a different chord in an interview with CNN, saying the decision should be left up to the schools.
"Whether an individual school wants that kind of protection or doesn't want that kind of protection is really up to the individual school," Keene said. "And when we made that statement, when Wayne LaPierre spoke about a week ago, he suggested that what has to happen, and what should happen, is in every school district, administrators, teachers and parents should sit down and ask what's needed to protect the students in that school."
LaPierre's Dec. 21 call for a top-down response for putting guns in schools was blasted by some teacher and school groups. Several pointed out that Columbine High School had an armed police officer at the school and that Virginia Tech, site of the nation's worst mass shooting, had its own police force.
Keene told CNN on Thursday that about 23,000 schools nationwide already had armed guards.
“We’re not urging that teachers be armed, but in some schools, school districts and teachers are armed today, and if the school district and the teachers want to do it that way, it’s really up to them, it seems to me," he said.
Although support for increased gun control is at an eight-year high, according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, some teachers were already looking toward arming themselves.
On Thursday, gun rights advocates were offering 200 Utah teachers six hours of training in using a concealed weapon, according to the Associated Press. Another group in Ohio said it was planning to give tactical arms training to 24 teachers. In other parts of the country, some state legislators have told NRA proponents that allowing teachers to carry guns is under consideration.
“We're not suggesting that teachers roam the halls” looking for a gunman, Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, the state's top gun lobby, told the AP. But he said a gun could be useful if a shooter broke into a classroom, as happened with Sandy Hook.
The question of what to do in such attacks on schools, which are rare in American history, has led to some awkward contortions in the debate.
In the Daily Beast, one writer suggested training students to attack a gunman, arguing that "if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly." Others have suggested getting rid of gun-free zones around schools to increase student safety.
Utah already allows licensed holders of concealed weapons into schools, and some teachers support that.
“We're sitting ducks,” Kevin Leatherbarrow, an English teacher at a Utah charter school, told the AP. “You don't have a chance in hell. You're dead -- no ifs, ands or buts.”
“It's a terrible idea,” Carol Lear, a chief lawyer for the Utah Office of Education, told the AP. “It's a horrible, terrible, no-good, rotten idea.”
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