Wayne LaPierre, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rifle Association(NRA). (Photo credit BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Jackie Kucinich, USA TODAY
Two months after launching a nationwide program to address school security, the National Rifle Association has begun to put together safety standards and risk assessment guidelines they say will help protect schools from future incidents of violence.
The National School Shield project will not be completed until April but Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman and a Homeland Security undersecretary in the George W. Bush administration, said his team has already found several areas where safety standards would help make schools more secure.
Hutchinson said the risk assessment exercises and "best practices" the NRA is developing have been modeled after those developed by the Department of Homeland Security for use of public and private entities. Once completed the exercises would enable schools to access their risks based on their unique facilities and needs.
"After you look at all of those things and talk to a lot of people then you access what they are doing and what the gaps are in security and more should be done," he said in an interview. "Every school has its unique characteristic...part of it is their unique community and part of it is school design and the threats that they have."
The program, initially unveiled during a NRA press conference in the wake of the December school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that left 20 children and 6 adults dead, was met with immediate criticism from those favoring more gun control.
Advocates of reforming the nation's gun laws accused the group of suggesting more guns in schools could solve the problem of guns in schools.
Hutchinson explained the project was a much more holistic process, involving trained security officials touring a range of schools around the country to help the schools conduct self-assessments.
In order to develop these tools, Hutchinson has recruited an assessment team - made up of federal law enforcement trainers, former Secret Service agents and other safety officials - to fan out across the country to schools in urban, suburban and rural communities.
Hutchinson outlined several factors when judging a school's readiness including the design of the building itself, expected response time from local police, drills that are in place and what kind of training that staff may have if an active shooter situation should occur.
"It's obvious from the record of violence in our country that most active shooter scenarios that have occurred in a school are over within minutes," he said. "And so it's all about the capability of an immediate response."
Part of that immediate response would be to install trained police officers, sometimes called "resource officers," to protect educators and students from potential threats to their safety.
"An armed guard is not a 100% guarantee of security -- we would never say that -- but it certainly enhances the response and whenever you can decrease that response time or improve that response time then you are going to diminish the loss of life," he said.
However, he said, the goal is not to arm teachers.
"Teachers should teach and others should protect," Hutchinson said.
During his visits to schools in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, Hutchinson noticed that while both school systems had sworn police officers on campus, many of the officers in California were armed.
"In Philadelphia, the schools use magnetometers in their high schools but the officers generally do not carry firearms," he said.
The NRA has not determined how every school could afford resource officers.
Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said while the salaries vary, officers usually cost a school $50,000 to $80,000 a year.
For areas where the cost of resource officers might be prohibitive, Hutchinson said they are looking into whether a designated staff member could be trained to fill the role of a security officer - a move that also may require the controversial task of changing state law to allow a civilian to possess a firearm near a school.
Freshman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-NC, has introduced legislation to repurpose "unused" funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to revive a Clinton-era program called Cops in Schools (CIS) that provided grants to school systems to hire resource officers.
Hutchinson said Congresses role in this process should be limited to funding grants for additional training for officers in schools and that going back to the CIS program will not help.
"It funded a lot of resource officers' in the schools, the funding dried up and most of the school districts absorbed that cost on their own or split it with their cities," he said.
Canady disagreed, saying the grants would provide the resources necessary for areas that wanted protection but couldn't afford the price tag.
"I'd love to see that brought back," he said.