What The Media Should Know About The NRA, Guns, And Schools

The media should cover the National Rifle Association's forthcoming plan to improve school security in the context of the extreme positions that the gun rights organization has taken on firearms in schools since the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

On April 2, the National Rifle Association will unveil its “National School Shield Program,” a package of policy and legislative proposals that reportedly will call for increasing the number of armed guards at schools. The group has vehemently opposed calls to pass stronger gun laws.

While the NRA previously supported a “zero tolerance” policy regarding guns in schools, the gun rights organization has more recently promoted the idea of arming teachers and aired a feature on controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio's school defense “posse” on its media arm, NRA News. 

After Columbine Massacre, The NRA's LaPierre Said “No Guns In America's Schools, Period” With “Rare Exception” Of Trained Security

Two weeks after a mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two gunmen killed 13 and wounded 21, the NRA held its annual meeting in nearby Denver. On May 1, 1999, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre delivered a speech endeavoring to “clearly state our positions in a comprehensive way.” In his remarks, LaPierre called for a “zero tolerance” policy on guns in schools “with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel”:

LAPIERRE: First, we believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools, period ... with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel.

Armed Guards Are Not A Cure-All To School Violence

In a widely-panned advertisement that politicized the protection received by Obama's daughters, the NRA claimed that Obama stated that he was “skeptical” of armed guards in schools. In fact, Obama said that he was “skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools,” a statement borne out by the history of school shootings in the United States.

Research suggests it is unclear whether armed guards in schools actually stop shootings. Notably, the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech both occurred at schools with an armed security presence.

An armed police officer present at Columbine attempted to fire on one of the shooters, but was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon. At the time of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, the school had an accredited police force with an emergency response team that was described in a report on the mass shooting as “like a SWAT team.” 

The National Education Association Opposes NRA Plan To Put Armed Volunteers In Schools

In a January 16 interview with Talking Points Memo, National Education Association Director of Advocacy and Outreach Kim Anderson explained why the NEA favored an Obama administration proposal to increase funding for school resource officers, but opposed the NRA's plan to place armed volunteers in schools.

According to Anderson, “There's a huge distinction between the NRA proposal and what the administration has proposed,” noting the difference between a school resource officer and an armed volunteer who may be from outside of the community:

“There's a huge distinction between the NRA proposal and what the administration has proposed,” she said. “The NRA proposed arming educators and volunteer security guards and private security personnel. The school resource officer program is an actual program that was funded a number of years ago by Joe Biden's bill to put law enforcement -- actual police offers -- in schools after they've received adequate training.”

“So there's a huge distinction between police officers who live in the community, who are from the community, and who are wanted by the community,” she said, “as opposed to forcing school districts to accept untrained personnel who really don't understand how to work in a school setting.”


“If you look at Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona, he's talking about volunteer posses,” she said. “That's a far cry from an officer who is trained and understands not only volatile situations that require significant amounts of training to deal with, but they also become really a part of the school staff. And that is so important in a school building, that every single adult in a school building really becomes part of one team.”

“There's an art and a science to being part of a team environment in a school,” Anderson said. 

The NRA Promoted Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Controversial School Safety “Posse”

On January 29, the NRA's news program Cam & Company aired a preview of a special on school security that featured Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio's volunteer school defense “posse.” In the preview, “posse” member Jerry Johnson told NRA News, “We're the eyes and ears of the sheriff's department. We're all volunteers. Some are ex-law enforcement, but me I'm retired. And some of us had no experience at all, but we've been trained.”

The segment made no mention of reports that some “posse” members have been found to have been convicted of violent crimes and sex offenses. A March 2012 report from KPHO, the Phoenix-area CBS affiliate, discovered “a number of posse members with arrests for assault, drug possession, domestic violence, sex crimes against children, disorderly conduct, impersonating an officer - and the list goes on.” In one incident described by KPHO a “posse” member “threw his girlfriend to the ground and choked her while trying to sexually assault her” and on another occasion a “posse” member held at gunpoint a man who had backed into his car.

“Posse” members have reportedly been trained to respond to school shootings by actor Steven Seagal. A February training exercise that included “posse” members, an individual acting as a gunman, and fake victims played by children from “the sheriff's youth volunteer Explorers academy” resulted in the injury of two people by “fake ammunition rounds.” 

Arpaio has defended his “posse,” telling ABC News, “It doesn't matter whether [the schools] like it or don't. I'm still going to do it. I can't imagine criticizing coming when they're given free protection.”

The NRA's Media Arm Promotes Teachers Who “Exercise Their Second Amendment Rights” By Carrying A Gun In The Classroom  

On March 8, NRA News released its full report on armed security in schools. In addition to rehashing footage from Arpaio's school defense “posse,” investigative reporter Ginny Simone interviewed “teachers and school administrators who have chosen to exercise their second Amendment rights inside the classroom for the safety of their students.”

The video report opens with a juxtaposition of images from the Newtown massacre and individuals identified as school administrators or teachers advocating for the carrying of firearms in the classroom.

The teachers and administrators also attack President Obama's gun violence prevention proposal, which involves expanding background checks on gun sales, banning assault weapons, increasing funding for school security and improving access to mental health services.

According to middle school principle Jane Berntson, Obama's proposal would include “taking away our Second Amendment rights, taking away our legal rights, and brushing our Constitution under a rug.” This baseless claim is followed by the statement of Harrold Independent School District Superintendent David Thweatt who says that Obama's use of executive action on some gun violence prevention proposals is “the kind of stuff I think a Third World-type dictator would do.”

The report also draws a connection between the NRA's rhetoric and the idea of arming educators, with one teacher stating, “I think that when the NRA said that 'the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun' was right on the money.” Another teacher says, “I am absolutely capable of learning how to safely use a firearm around students.”

While public support exists for trained security personnel in schools, a majority of Americans oppose arming teachers.

Senate Gun Control Package Already Includes Increased Funding For School Safety Initiatives 

gun violence prevention package introduced into the Senate incorporates a legislative proposal to improve school safety. The School and Campus Safety Enhancements Act of 2013 would increase funding for the Community Oriented Polcing Services program and require the Secretary of Education to convene a taskforce to improve “school safety guidelines.”

For its part, the Obama administration has called for $150 million in funding so that schools can hire up to 1,000 “specially trained police officers that work in schools,” school psychologists, social workers and counselors.