In an effort to develop a National School Shield Emergency Response Program, a report sponsored by the National Rifle Association proposed armed security officers in every school to increase school safety. Former Republican Arkansas Congressman Asa Hutchinson, who led the NRA task force and served as its national director, joined msnbc’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell Tuesday.
When asked by Lawrence O’Donnell about the independent standing and credibility of the report, Hutchinson refused to disclose how much he was getting paid as a consultant to direct this effort. “I’ve been very frustrated that we present a comprehensive report that will do something good for safety of our children across this country,” he said.
He mentioned Mark Mattioli, who lost his 6-year-old son James at Newtown, who has announced support for the proposal. ”Mark Mattioli, who came down as a Sandy Hook parent, and said ‘I want to express my thanks that someone is doing something about safety.’ I wish that the debate would move in that direction because that’s exactly what will save children’s lives,” Hutchinson said.
None of the members of the task force (all were selected by Hutchinson) “had an education background or experience as a teacher or school administrator,” said O’Donnell, who noted that all 13 members including Hutchinson himself held law enforcement or security backgrounds.
A former U.S. attorney, drug enforcement chief under President George W. Bush, and Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Hutchinson was selected by the nation’s top gun lobby to lead the “Shield Program” that aims to place armed guards or police offers in every school in America. In addition to serving as an NRA consultant, Hutchinson sits on the board of the American Conservative Union. Two other NRA directors and NRA President David Keene also serve on the ACU board.
Throughout his career, Hutchinson has maintained a relationship with the NRA and other gun groups. In his 1986 Senate campaign, he was endorsed by the Gun Owners of America of Washington. Hutchinson also received more than $30,000 in contributions from the NRA while running for state and federal office, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
But Hutchinson said on The Last Word Tuesday evening that he was not speaking on behalf of the NRA. “I’m not with the NRA nor do I represent the NRA, nor am I a spokesman for the NRA. So I’m in here just as the director of the task force that just looked at the school safety issues.”
O’Donnell asked about shooting massacres that occur outside the school, citing two victims of mass shootings: 6-year-old Veronica Moser Sullivan, who was killed in Aurora, Colo., and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was shot to death in a shopping mall parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. Hutchinson responded that he was asked to exclusively deal with keeping children safe in schools.
“How do you respond as a society to those individual tragedies that we see? You respond by law enforcement, you respond by security, you respond by addressing the problems of society. I tackle one thing at a time in life and I’m tackling school safety and we believe we’ve made some very good recommendations. I wasn’t asked to look at the safety of movie theaters, I wasn’t asked to look at the safety of members of Congress. I was asked to look at the safety of schools, we have done that, we have performed that. We have made some very substantial recommendations that I hope will be considered by the federal Congress, by our states, and I hope the NRA.”
In 225 pages that cost the NRA more than $1 million, the report recommended eight target goals to improve school safety, including a 40-60 hour training program for school resource officers and armed school personnel, revisions to state laws allowing personnel to carry guns, improving cooperation between law enforcement officials and schools, giving schools access to online tools on safety policies. The study also proposed making school safety a priority of state educational requirements, increasing federal funding for developing school safety initiatives, turning the “Shield Program” into a permanent group, and creating a pilot program to assess threats and mental health.
Hutchinson guaranteed the report maintained “full independence” from the NRA, saying “there’s no guarantee the NRA will accept these recommendations.” The NRA itself issued a response: “We need time to digest the full report. We commend Asa Hutchinson for his rapid response in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, and we are certain the contributions he and his team have made will go a long way to making America’s schools safer.”
This isn’t been the first time armed school guards have been suggested to make “America’s schools safer,” as Hutchinson said Tuesday. Last December, after the Sandy Hook shooting, the gun lobby’s Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called on Congress to place armed security in every school in the nation instead of changing any existing gun laws.
On Monday, Connecticut legislators announced a deal on what some called “the most comprehensive package in the country.” Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza fired off 154 shots with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle within five minutes. Lanza also went through six 30-round magazines, though half were not completely empty, and police said he had more than 100 rifle bullets at hand. Last week, search warrants revealed that Lanza had an arsenal of guns, knives, samurai swords and ammunition found at the school and at the home he shared with his mother, whom he also killed.
As the president heads to Denver on Wednesday, not far from the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., where shooter James Holmes killed 12 and injured 58 people, lawmakers are considering a proposed assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity magazine clips and another on tighter background checks, a step seen by gun control advocates as the piece of legislation most likely to pass through both chambers.
President Obama will meet with Colorado law enforcement and community leaders in an effort to spur national momentum for gun reform, and also plans to visit the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut next week to add pressure on Congress.