by Henry Martin
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Perhaps no single statement divides America between its elite class and everyone else as sharply as NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s now-famous saying. On one side are the best-protected, most isolated members of society—those who don’t have to experience reality, but nonetheless impose their views on everyone else. Opposite them stand the rest of us: hard-working men and women who live in the real world and can therefore perceive it.
LaPierre’s line isn’t a catch phrase. For millions upon millions, it is a pitch-perfect summation of their reality.
In the bleak aftermath of the national tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, conversation veered almost instantly from how to protect our schoolchildren. From protected New York City TV studios and Washington government buildings, political elites and their media allies issued frenzied calls for new legislation. But in towns across the country, moms and dads only cared that their children were safe at school.
So, on Dec. 21, 2012, LaPierre called a press conference to announce the NRA’s contribution to protecting America’s schoolchildren. The National School Shield program is an independent initiative to answer one question: What more can we do to improve the safety of our children at school?
Of course, the media raced to ridicule this effort. They demonized it as the fearsome gun lobby forcing guns into schools. They conjured frightening images of fortified schools patrolled by over-muscled goons and quick-draw, wannabe heroes.
Comically, the same media that ceaselessly runs mass murderers’ portraits and hyperventilates over their life stories mocked parents, NRA members and school-safety advocates as paranoid for thinking their town could be next.
Action vs. Diversion
By attacking LaPierre’s “good guy with a gun” line, these anti-gun crusaders only highlighted their own hypocrisy and diversionary tactics.
Vice President Joe Biden ridiculed NRA’s position as wanting to “turn schools into armed camps,” while President Obama said he was “skeptical” about armed guards in schools.
But if guns in the hands of good people don’t make anyone safer, why do we surround our political leaders with armed security? Why do we arm our police officers? More critically, why do we protect our office buildings, airports and celebrities with guns, while leaving our children defenseless?
The national news networks found no time to ask these questions. They also scarcely reported this fact: In December 2012, about one-third of America’s schools already had armed guards. Where were the reports of tragic accidents, overzealous, threatening security officers or student body insurrection at any of those 23,200 schools?
For one-third of America, armed school security was common sense long before the NRA suggested it. But in Newtown’s wake, millions of parents wanted to upgrade security measures at their children’s schools—and the National Rifle Association took action where no other organization would.
Yet the education establishment flung scorn at the National School Shield report.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten attacked it as “a cruel hoax that will fail to keep our children and schools safe.”
National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel labeled it “misguided and in fact a distraction from what we ought to be talking about.” But even further: “No parent in America or anywhere in the world wants our kindergarten students to pass someone with a gun on their way to the classroom. That’s not the way we make schools safe and secure,” he decreed.
But Van Roekel, apparently, doesn’t speak for everyone—not even close. A national survey of more than 10,000 teachers and administrators found 90 percent think having armed police officers in schools would improve safety. Yet Van Roekel’s organization failed to embrace this or any other actionable school security idea.
Instead, President Obama and the education establishment all relentlessly fought for gun bans, firearm registration and other failed ideas. Yet of their legislative proposals, not a single one could have possibly prevented, or even lessened, the Newtown tragedy. But a trained, armed presence in the school that morning would have almost certainly altered the outcome, and Americans know it.
That’s why a survey of 15,000 active and retired law enforcement officers found more than 80 percent support arming teachers and administrators who willingly volunteer to train with firearms and carry them on the job. And nearly 90 percent believe casualties would be decreased if armed citizens were present at the onset of active-shooter incidents.
A Comprehensive Plan
Although the National School Shield program recommends schools employ trained armed security, in reality that is only one, non-mandatory aspect of its comprehensive strategy.
In December, LaPierre named former Congressman and former Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Asa Hutchinson as the national director of the National School Shield program. He was given full autonomy to conduct the initiative free from political pressure or predetermined outcomes.
Hutchinson consulted with some of America’s foremost security experts, including Ralph Basham, former director of the U.S. Secret Service; Bruce Bowen, former deputy director of the U.S. Secret Service; Col. (ret.) John Quattrone, U.S. Air Force Security Forces Officer, and Tony Lambraia, CEO of Phoenix RBT Solutions.
Hutchinson and his task force spent three months surveying schools all across the country, in both urban and rural regions. They conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with school officials, educators, law enforcement personnel and security experts. Site examinations included technology, interior and exterior doors, access controls, architecture and school design.
At every school, the team conducted reviews of emergency procedures, safety plans and day-to-day operations, then formulated a risk analysis.
They found a vast difference between the nation’s largest school districts—which often employ school officers, surveillance technology, magnetometers and other measures—and smaller and mid-size schools, which face greater resource challenges.
“Many of the recommendations are directed at those schools that are trying to do something in school safety but are struggling with the resources to do it,” Hutchinson said.
Since every school faces different challenges, the plan was created specifically to allow school districts to adopt pieces of it that fit their localized needs.
The report specifically notes, “Local school authorities are in the best position to make a final decision on school safety procedures, specifically whether an armed guard is necessary and supported by the education and citizen community.”
For any school wishing to add an armed presence, the task force developed a model training program for school resource officers that includes 40 to 60 hours of comprehensive training covering weapons retention, coordination with local law enforcement and other critical topics.
There’s a simple reason why so many school districts have already embraced, or are currently considering, armed security: Since every school shooting results in armed good guys racing toward it, why not put them as close as possible? Qualified, trained armed personnel on the scene reduce threat response time. When they can run down the hall rather than drive down the street, they have a much better chance of altering the outcome of tragic events.
Of course, not all school districts will employ armed security the same way. Many simply cannot afford a full-time school resource officer. In that case, the National School Shield task force recommends those schools look for current employees who are willing to undergo the necessary training and qualifications to carry a firearm. Of course, no one should ever be forced to do so against his or her will.
“Let me emphasize, this is not talking about all teachers,” Hutchinson said. “Teachers should teach. But if there is a personnel that has good experience, that has an interest in it, and is willing to go through the training of, again, 40 to 60 hours that is totally comprehensive, then that is an appropriate resource that a school should be able to utilize.”
A New Mindset
In today’s climate, school administrators must actively focus on building security and mental wellness. In some ways, they have to be retrained to operate in a world redefined by tragedy.
The task force found many schools don’t currently take simple steps that can greatly enhance security. For example, they might have surveillance equipment, but monitor it inconsistently. Many schools’ perimeter fencing is inadequate or in disrepair. Simply installing hinge coverings and anti-carding plates on exterior doors can delay or stop an armed intruder. New designs for interior doors and windows can keep classrooms safe in a lockdown situation.
These are inexpensive, accessible security steps every school can take. The National School Shield program makes doing so simpler than ever before: A free, online self-assessment tool for every school in the country will be made available through the program’s website.
“Right now, schools either have to go out and hire an expert or they struggle around with local law enforcement to develop their security policies,” Hutchinson said. This tool will detect areas of weakness and then help administrators find solutions.
The task force also developed a specific pilot program on threat assessment and mental health. According to the U.S. Secret Service, 71 percent of school attackers felt threatened or bullied. Many showed visible warning signs prior to their deadly outbursts. Prevention and intervention programs should be a vital part of every school’s security plan. There “are steps that a school can take to identify a threat but also have proper mental health responses to the school environment,” said Hutchinson.
School security is a local challenge that must be addressed by parents, administrators and citizens. But it’s no longer acceptable for our schools to be defenseless.
Our children are our most precious resource. The NRA and its nearly 5 million members make it possible for “good guys” in every school district to protect them as such.
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