The NRA doesn’t just want to put armed teachers, armed guards and volunteer vigilantes in schools to prevent more school shootings. It wants to turn schools into veritable prisons, where security staff patrol and lockdown schools, and indentify and spy on problem students and employees, according to an NRA-sponsored report that included model legislation to allow such measures.
The National Federation of Teachers and well-known civil rights advocates slammed the report, issued by former GOP congressman and Department of Homeland Security official Asa Hutchinson. They said militarizing schools with more guns was not the answer to gun violence. Nor was putting more police into schools, particularly in communities of color. That only increases hostilities for students, not safe learning environments.
What follows below are 16 excerpts from the 225-page report showing how the NRA would choose to deal with the potential for gun violence—primarily by locking down schools, making every student and school employee a suspect, and arming a cadre of security officers with legal authority to shoot back.
Notably, the report does mention that anti-bullying programs have an important role to play in lowering hateful acts. It also says that all school employees, contractors or community volunteers carrying guns should have extensive background checks, which pro-gun lawmakers in Congress are saying would be unacceptable in new federal gun controls.
But the bottom line is that the report by Hutchinson’s security-oriented consulting firm for the NRA would militarize schools and turn them into lightweight versions of modern prisons. Nowhere does it suggest the obvious—that taking guns out of circulation will lessen their use. Instead, it seeks to make guns in schools the new normal.
1. Only more guns will stop violence. “It is the belief of the National School Shield Task Force that many schools across the country stand to benefit from the presence of armed security and, in the quest to make our schools safer, should leave no option off the table.”
2. Unarmed officers can’t do the job. “The presence of a security guard or off-duty policeman when there is an active shooter is mostly ineffective unless the security officer is armed. Without a weapon to defend them, even the most heroic individuals are unprepared to defend against violent attackers armed with guns.”
3. The NRA should train armed school staff. “The NRA has the nationally recognized expertise to develop and implement the stringent training courses required by this model program. It is recommended that the professional training programs that are approved by the states for armed school personnel use private sector approved and certified trainers as well as traditional state law enforcement trainers.”
4. This training should be privatized or donated. “Because of the limitations of federal, state and local funding for school safety, there is an important role that can be filled by a private non-profit advocacy and education organization. The National School Shield is in a position with adequate funding and support from the NRA to fulfill this important national mission.”
5. Four options for an armed presence. “A School Resource Officer (SRO) is a uniformed, armed and sworn law enforcement officer, usually drawn from local police or sheriff’s departments... The second possibility is introducing privately contracted security personnel… The third possibility is introducing armed citizen volunteers.... The fourth option involves arming personnel already at the school for whom security is not their primary duty – for example, teachers, principals, or custodial staff.”
6. Assume no school is safe. “Finally, a school must take steps to prevent and mitigate those events that are entirely unpredictable and even unfathomable. Using a phrase from the security field, this area of consideration can be summed up as follows: ‘Just because there is the absence of a threat does not mean there is no risk.’”
7. Track and spy on ‘problem kids.’ “Each school should develop a threat assessment team, which will work in coordination with mental health professionals… The team will be responsible for evaluating all threats, including the surrounding circumstances, and conducting an investigation to determine whether the threat is serious. After all appropriate assessments have been made, the team should create a written safety plan by integrating all relevant findings, and should determine whether to refer the student to a school psychologist for a mental health assessment and, if necessary, to the school resource officer for a law-enforcement investigation.
8. Overview: spy on kids, lock campuses, position guards. “This includes developing a knowledge of commonly identified ‘pre-incident indicators’ that historical inquiry of such events suggests may be helpful in identifying and interdicting potential assailants before they engage in violence. Another part is physical, involving the construction, installation, and maintenance of appropriate physical security barriers beginning with the outermost perimeter of school grounds, extending to the exterior of the school building, and continuing through the interior of the school itself. Finally, a third part is comprised of establishing appropriate daily procedures that complement various components of a school’s physical infrastructure or, where that physical infrastructure is lacking, compensate for that potential gap in security.”
9. Identify ‘troubled’ kids and track them. “Schools should have a dedicated Threat Assessment Group or Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) that meets at a minimum once every two weeks and preferably weekly. These teams should employ a multi-disciplinary approach to not only assess existing threats but also focus on preventing the threat or crisis from occurring.
“The team tracks 'red flags' over time, detecting patterns, trends, and disturbances in individual or group behavior. The team receives reports of disruptive, problematic or concerning behavior or misconduct (from co-workers, community members, friends, colleagues, etc.), conducts an investigation, performs a threat assessment, and determines the best mechanisms for support, intervention, warning/notification and response.”
10. Spy on schoolwork for violent fantasies. “A student intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues to feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions that may signal an impending violent act. These clues can take the form of subtle threats, boasts, innuendos, predictions, or ultimatums. They may be spoken or conveyed in stories, diary entries, essays, poems, letters, songs, drawings, doodles, tattoos, or videos.”
11. Monitor social media use and posts. “The rise of social media has expanded the arena in which students express themselves and communicate with one another. For many adolescents, these new platforms do not merely supplement traditional mediums of communication, but are often the primary means through which they communicate. Therefore, it is important that adults with a stake in school security adapt to this changing landscape.”
12. Watch school employees. “History has unfortunately shown that adults are also capable of posing threats to the occupants of a school. To the victims of an attack and those surrounding them, it hardly matters whether a fellow student or an adult committed the act; the more important thing is that a potential offender – regardless of age – is identified and stopped before they commit the act.
“While the conditions and motives that lead an adult to commit a violent act at a school typically may differ from those of a student, it is also believed that an adult, such as an employee, that commits a violent act does not ‘snap’ but rather displays behavioral indicators over time that lead up to the event.”
13. Background checks for employees (but not gun buyers). “It is also recommended that schools perform a pre-employment background check and periodic rechecks on all employees.”
“If a school decides to employ the services of one or multiple forms of security personnel, it is recommended that schools perform a pre-employment background check on all of these individuals, whether armed and unarmed. The following list includes the types of information the school should consult as part of a pre-employment background check within the laws governing access and use for making informed hiring decisions: Former employment data; DMV records; Residential address history verification; Credit check; Criminal records check; Education verification; Civil history; National wants and warrants; Social security verification; Drug testing; Finger print screening."
14. Limited access to buildings. “In high-risk schools, an entry control point or a manned guard building with corresponding levels of screening and a sturdy gate may be ideal; in others, active monitoring at exterior entry points may be deemed unnecessary, impractical, or counterproductive. A third option is to allow free entry and exit during designated arrival and departure times, while enacting more stringent perimeter screening and access control during daytime school hours and after school hours.”
15. Remove unnecessary plants and trees. “School officials should be cognizant that, if misused, misplaced, or neglected, landscaping can conversely be detrimental to school security, providing hiding places for people, weapons, and explosive devices, blocking lighting, inadvertently providing routes of unauthorized access, blocking lines of sight necessary for natural surveillance, or damaging other security devices.”
16. Surveillance cameras in schools and buses. “Surveillance equipment installed on the outdoor grounds of a school or on the exterior of the building itself can serve several purposes. For one, cameras help distinguish between outsiders who do not belong on campus and students and employees who do. This ability can be helpful, especially to administrative or security staff who may gain from extra time in identifying a threatening individual approaching the school and taking appropriate preventive measures.”
The Security State vs. Common Sense
These measures and others in the NRA-sponsored report would require state legislatures to pass new laws granting legal immunity to people carrying guns inside schools. The appendix of the 225-page report suggests legal language for that legislation, which is typical of rightwing lobbying efforts—and undoubtedly would be a boon for privatized criminal justice services.
Much of these recommendations are not a surprise, as the NRA has long said that the answer to gun violence is arming more Americans with guns. But the report actually admits that there might be other even more effective ways to prevent the conditions that lead young people to violent fantasies and acts.
Creating a school climate that discourages bullying is a serious step, it said. “Establishing a school climate or culture that minimizes the risk of attack by addressing certain conditions (such as bullying) that have frequently been associated with attackers’ decisions to embark on a path of violence."
And as any parent would tell you, there are bound to be other students who are aware that a peer might be unduly angry, vengeful or dangerous. The report said, “Ask students to report real threats; don’t wait for adults to find out:
“The immediate question for many after reading the above findings (noting school attacks) is: ‘If others knew about an attack before it occurred, why wasn’t the attack prevented?’ The basis for that answer is perhaps partially found in another statistic from the Secret Service and Department of Education report: in 93 percent of these cases, the person who knew was a peer, such as a friend, schoolmate, or sibling, while in only two cases did an adult have information about an idea or plan to attack?”
Indeed, why don’t adults and teachers have any idea that violent acts are imminent? Perhaps because school administrators have not created trusting environments and relationships with students or school employees where those in the know can feel free enough to share their perceptions.But turning schools into mini-prisons is not going to encourage that trust.
By Steven Rosenfeld
Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.