Gun control reform is one of the hottest and most controversial issues this legislative season -- and the National Rifle Association has already begun fueling the fire for the gun control debate.
On Tuesday, the NRA unveiled its National School Shield Initiative plan, a comprehensive 225-page report that made several recommendations to tighten school security.
For three months following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, a team of experts evaluated security vulnerabilities in a variety of test schools throughout the nation. Led by former congressman Asa Hutchinson, R-Arkansas, the task force analyzed a wide array of potential security issues in the test schools, and identified solutions to fix them.
On an infrastructure level, increasing perimeter fences and adding surveillance cameras on school campuses were both suggestions for improving security of school grounds. Other suggestions included an overhaul of mental health pilot programs to reduce bullying in schools.
The recommendation that has been catching the most attention from the public, though, has been the task forces pitch to have adults carrying firearms in schools.
The NRA believes that by having armed personnel on campuses, schools can cut the time needed to intercept a shooter on school grounds.
The presence of an armed security personnel in a school adds a layer of security and diminishes the response time that is beneficial to the overall security, said Hutchinson. If you can reduce that response time, if you have the firearm on the presence of someone in the school, it will save lives.
But while some may envision schools where every teacher is carrying a gun, the NRA isnt proposing that all teachers would be given firearms.
Teachers should teach, said Hutchinson.
The former Arkansas congressman went on to say that staff members who have relative experience and an interest in becoming a school guard would be the ones carrying guns.
And even then, the road to becoming an armed guard wouldnt be easy.
Each person would have to undergo a thorough background check and participate in a 40-to-60-hour training program before they could become an armed school guard.
The School Shield plan also doesnt suggest that each school would be forced to have an armed volunteer on campus. Instead, it suggests that each school train and equip at least one staff member in how to use a firearm. When asked about funding for the program, the NRA task force emphasized that the School Shield program could get funding from Homeland Security grants provided for by the Obama administration.
According to Hutchinson, the presence of armed security is just as important as the mental health component in gun control.
Meanwhile, the School Shield plan is catching on with some people who have been directly affected by gun violence in schools. Mark Mattioli is one person whos agreeing with the NRAs proposals.
Mattiolis 6-year-old son, James, was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in December. Mattioli attended the press conference Tuesday, and praised the NRAs safety plan.
We need kids to be safe, began Mattioli. And from what Ive learned through school resource officer programs, is they allow for a positive interaction with a law enforcement professional ...These are recommendations for solutions, real solutions to make our kids safer. Thats what we need.
The U.S. Senate is set to begin debate of sweeping gun restrictions next week after a two-week recess. Current proposals for national gun control legislation include mandatory universal background checks and grants for school security. Session reconvenes April 8.
Allison Nielsen writes special to Sunshine State News.