Transcript: Press briefing Q&A with Asa Hutchinson on arming teachers in schools

Excerpts of Q&A responses by Asa Hutchinson, Director of the NRA-funded National School Shield Task Force, on recommendations to arm teachers and school personnel at a press briefing on April 2, 2013:

Asa Hutchinson:
In terms of volunteers, my impression from school superintendents is they would have great reluctance, and so that’s not the best solution. That’s why we have shifted to school staff – trained school staff – as designated by the superintendent and the school board.

Now, in the best practices, there is a discussion – just the pros and cons for every school district in terms of SROs, in terms of armed school staff, in terms of volunteers as well, and one of them is a liability concern, one is a training concern. But that issue is addressed in the best practices giving as much information as possible of the pros and cons to various schools who ultimately make these decisions.

And then lastly you asked about the cost of this effort. The NRA budgeted in excess of 1 million to fund this effort. I’m not saying we’ve used it all but they have financially supported it, and obviously with this team of experts and the assessments that were done and looking at this report you can see that it’s a very substantial investment and serious effort by the NRA.

Asa Hutchinson:
Our whole effort is about school safety, and so the impact I hope we have in this news conference and this report is that we talk about things that will keep children safer in school, and that is these types of programs from the private sector but also support from the federal and state policymakers. So we want the debate focused on school safety and that’s what should be the consideration.

Asa Hutchinson:
Well, I hope they continue to talk and work together. We have worked so hard and focused on this school safety report, I have not focused on the separate debate in Congress about, you know, firearms and how they should be dealt with. Our focus has been on the school safety side and that’s our mandate, that’s our right approach. And I really hope that when they’re seeking common ground this will be the common ground. There is common sense steps that can be taken by federal policymakers. President Obama supports in his initiative additional funding on school safety; we recommend that it be coordinated better, that it’s focused on the innovative. And you can open up also the biggest chunk – without new money – you can open up additional grants through Homeland Security to the schools. So it just makes them to be able to compete with additional dollars if they wanted to look at the funding.

Asa Hutchinson:
Well, when you say my organization, my organization is the National School Shield Task Force; it’s represented in this room. We might have one view on background checks. And the – obviously – because our focus is on school safety and making our schools a safer environment. That is the reason for it.

Now, in terms of background checks, we all want to make sure that criminals, those that have been declared with mental issues that they not have access and that’s a discussion in the country that will go on. While that debate goes on, we’re trying to do something about school safety.

Asa Hutchinson:
Yes, that’s part of the recommendations is that any school staff that’s designated by the school say “We want you to be a trained, armed response” – they would have to go through the background checks, they would have to go through testing and screening and then 40 to 60 hours of training. And when I say that variance, some of it – everybody comes to that situation with a different level of background and experience. So that’s a very comprehensive program. Everyone should be assured that anyone who actually is a designated as an armed response has the adequate training to accomplish the task and be safe.

Asa Hutchinson:
Well, I think one thing you know for sure is that the response time is critical – just like Joe Myrick, the assistant principal that I mentioned. He had to go out to his truck to retrieve his gun to stop the assailant. And if you could reduce that response time – so if you have the firearm on the presence of someone in the school that can reduce the response, it will save lives. That is the objective. Now, one of the key elements is weapon retention – firearm retention – and how they know how to protect that and to make sure it’s properly cared for during the course of the normal school day. That is a key element of the model training program that is being presented.

Asa Hutchinson:
Again, in reference to Newtown, what was the first thing the school did after the incident? They got armed officers there to protect children. It was very important for the confidence of the parents, and there they did not have the response capabilities. They had teachers that were giving up their lives, and so we don’t want teachers have to do that. We want to have a better response and that’s the focus of these recommendations – to give the schools more tools that they can respond quickly, reduce the loss of lives.

Asa Hutchinson:
No, the ATF is not mentioned in the report. The agencies that we focus on are Education, Homeland Security, and Justice, which have traditionally taken the lead in school safety initiatives. That’s been our focus and not the ATF.

Asa Hutchinson:
First of all, every local school district will make its own decision. Augie Pescatore here, representing the Philadelphia school district in which every student going into the high school goes through a magnetometer. And yet, the school resource officers in the schools do not carry firearms. That’s a decision that the Philadelphia school district made. I respect that. Other school districts make different conclusions that they want to have an armed response. They don’t have magnetometers and they want to have a different capability. We’re giving them the options. And so my response to that is you are interested in making our schools safer and to save children’s lives, look at these recommendations seriously. And the presence of an armed security in a school is a layer that is just as important as the mental health component. If you have a mental health component without having other security, it’s inadequate. And if you have the armed presence there without having locking doors, it’s inadequate. Without having access control – so it’s a comprehensive plan of layered security in which the armed school personnel or SRO is one element.

Asa Hutchinson:
The answer is there is no specific recommendation on how many SRO or armed personnel is in a particular school…It would be up to the school to determine the level of resources. Obviously, an SRO in every school building is important but right now you have SROs maybe rotating between three campuses. I would judge that insufficient and so they should devote more. Generally, you would say there should be at least one on every school campus to reduce the response time.

Asa Hutchinson:
The relationship is I’m employed as a consultant that leads this task force in which I have asked each of these experts that have been introduced to independently look at the issue of school safety and to make these recommendations. A question was earlier asked as to whether this is unanimous. Everyone that is here and that’s mentioned in the report has signed off on this report. If you talk to all of us, there’s probably a lot of different political leanings, a lot of viewpoints reflected but there’s a unity of opinion when it comes to these recommendations on school safety.

Asa Hutchinson:
It’s important that they, first of all, be trained with the firearm that they actually carry and utilize. They have to practice with that. But there’s a variety of arms – there’s no specific recommendation on that. From the surveys and the assessments that I’ve personally participated in, it’s everything from a sidearm to shotgun to AR-15 in the car of a school officer. And so there’s a variety of weapons that are utilized – firearms by the school officers based upon their local leadership and what they determine is best and appropriate for their school environment.

Now, I don’t want to avoid – you asked a question about the presence of security…Well, if you go into a mall, there’s security and so there’s security here at the National Press Club.

Asa Hutchinson:
No, there’s nothing I’m afraid of. I’m very wide open. There’s nothing I’m nervous about.

Asa Hutchinson:
The specific finding and recommendation is that the presence of an armed security or personnel in a school adds a layer of security and diminishes a response time that is beneficial to the overall security. So the answer is yes. It is a plus. But we also recognize that one, the decision is locally made, secondly, there’s some school districts that decide not to go that direct and we want to make sure that our best practices and our resources are available to them whatever decision that they make.

I come from a rural state, and I understand the smaller school districts struggle. They can’t afford a school resource officer. They’re looking for options. This is a key tool to help provide them with more options for school security and safety.

Tony Lambraia, CEO of Phoenix RBT Solutions:
The program is about 40 to 60 hours as Mr. Hutchinson explained and the average cost is somewhere around $800 to $1,000 per student going through the programs that would provide ammunitions, equipments, things of that nature too. So there’s not a set cost right now that we’ve attached to this program. We haven’t done that. We’ve made recommendations and we’ve provided options for the schools but we have not attached right now a price to that…

When I say student I mean student in the training programs not students in the schools. I apologize for that.

Asa Hutchinson:
Well, you justify [the costs] because it’s necessary. Now, let’s look at the costs for a second though. If you look at some of the best practices, there’s reference to a school resource officer might cost $90,000 or $60,000 in one jurisdiction but you go out to California and it’s well over $100,000. So it varies per difference in districts. The training cost should be more constant. But how does a school justify it? One, if they look at the armed school personnel, its existing personnel with other responsibilities, the cost really would be for the 40 to 60 hours, which is a week plus, of training that they have to devote, and then the training costs itself. And in our model law there’s a lot of different ways that the training can be accomplished by the states. One, it would be by professional private sector trainers – the train the trainer program. It could be by the law enforcement entity in the state. We want to make sure it’s accessible and close to school and have as many trainers that are properly trained as possible.

Asa Hutchinson:
I would be interested what Connecticut is doing for school safety. If that’s they’re – I would say it’s totally inadequate because you can address assault weapons and it doesn’t stop someone bringing in a .45 caliber firearm into the school. It doesn’t stop violence in the schools. And so if you’re going to protect children, you have to do something about school safety and enhancing our safety measures in schools. It can be done, and that’s the whole purpose of this task force.

Let me end by saying, again, thank you for your work on this. I want to express my appreciation again for the independence from the NRA. It is our hope that they will accept these recommendations, that this will be a long-term commitment by the NRA to be a national leader in school safety. Thank you for your attendance today.

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