WASHINGTON -- With the Senate set to debate gun control this month, a National Rifle Association task force released a 225-page report Tuesday that called for armed police officers, security guards or staff members in every U.S. school and urged states to loosen gun restrictions to allow trained teachers and administrators to carry weapons.
Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas who led the task force, unveiled the report at a packed news conference with unusually heavy security, including a bomb-sniffing yellow Labrador retriever. A dozen officers in plain clothes and uniforms stood watch as he spoke; one warned photographers to "remain stationary" during the event.
Among the study's central conclusions is that "the presence of armed security personnel adds a layer of security and diminishes response time" in a shooting, Hutchinson said. He cited a 1997 Mississippi incident in which an assistant principal ran to his truck to retrieve a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and subdued a gunman who had already shot two students.
The recommendations, which also included expanding the police presence in schools, drew immediate criticism from gun control advocates and many Democrats, who have been fighting to tighten gun restrictions after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.
"Arming the teacher is merely a response to the last tragedy," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who is chairman of a House task force on gun violence. "The one before that was in a shopping mall in Oregon, and the one before that was in a movie theater in Colorado. I don't think the proper response is to arm all the projectionists in the movie theaters or all the vendors in the mall."
After the Newtown shooting, Wayne LaPierre, the rifle association's executive director, announced that the association would come up with a plan to put armed guards in every school.
Technically, Hutchison's task force is independent of the rifle association, even though it paid for the study, and LaPierre was not present Tuesday. But critics see no distinction between the two.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, an advocacy group, criticized the study as "nothing more than a continuation of the NRA's attempts to prey on America's fears, saturate our schools with more guns and turn them into armed fortresses."
But the report did get support from at least one Newtown parent: Mark Mattioli, whose 6-year-old son, James, was killed at Sandy Hook.
"I think politics needs to be set aside here, and I hope this doesn't lead to name-calling," said Mattioli, who joined Hutchinson at the news conference. "This is a recommendation for solutions, real solutions that will make our kids safer. That's what we need."
The panel called on the Homeland Security, Education and Justice departments to coordinate school safety efforts and provide grant money for schools to assess their ability to prevent and respond to attacks. It recommended that officers or employees who are armed take a 40-60 hour training course to be developed by the rifle association based on a model designed by the task force.
The group also called on states to require schools to develop security plans. Most schools do not have a formal written security policy, the task force found, and even when such plans exist they are often inadequate.