Gun-rights advocates unveiled Tuesday a 225-page report paid for by the National Rifle Association that lays out a vision for arming teachers to prevent the kind of mass shootings that claimed 27 lives at a Connecticut elementary school last year.
Drafted in response to the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary, the report calls for the creation of a 40- to 60-hour weapons training course that would prepare teachers or administrators to carry guns and confront possible shooters — ideas that drew a mixed response from Maryland officials.
Minutes before the NRA-commissioned report was released, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings defended one of the few gun-control proposals that still has a chance of passage in Congress — a bill that would make gun trafficking a federal crime.
The Baltimore Democrat expressed dismay at a report that the gun lobby was working to weaken it.
"I would hope our friends in the NRA would reconsider that," he said.
The NRA-funded School Shield Task Force plan comes as Congress prepares to take up a handful of controversial gun-control measures next week after months of debate.
Some, including a proposal to reinstate a federal ban on assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines, have lost momentum in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
President Barack Obama will go to Colorado on Wednesday and to Connecticut next week in an effort to build support for those measures.
NRA officials floated the idea of arming teachers and increasing the number of police officers in schools in December. The gun lobby paid $1 million to an ostensibly separate group, led by Republican former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, to study how that broad goal might be implemented.
"If you have the firearm in the presence of someone in the school that can reduce the response time, it will save lives," Hutchinson, who headed the Drug Enforcement Administration under President George W. Bush, said Tuesday at the National Press Club. "The response time is critical."
Maryland has grappled with several gun incidents in schools, including the shooting of a student on the first day of school at Perry Hall High in August. On Tuesday, a 15-year-old Glen Burnie High School student was arrested after police said he brought a .22-caliber handgun to school in a book bag.
But the idea of arming educators was viewed skeptically by some officials in the state. Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson expressed concern about where those guns would be stored, how they would be secured and whether 60 hours of training would prepare an elementary school teacher to fire on a would-be shooter.
"We do not believe that this is the answer to this problem," said Johnson, who leads a coalition called the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence. "I would point out that Columbine had several armed security personnel," he said, referring to the 1999 shooting in Colorado that left 15 dead.
Baltimore County deploys 63 officers in its schools at a cost of about $8 million a year, Johnson said. Superintendent Dallas Dance also created a safety and security office, and developed a $3.7 million plan to equip schools with new entry and visitor-identification systems as well as cameras that stream live to police stations and patrol cars.
Before the NRA event, Cummings spoke at the National Press Club about legislation that would make it a federal crime to purchase a weapon for another person who would not clear a background check. A similar measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.
Cummings, whose 20-year-old nephew was shot and killed in Virginia in 2011, has pushed for the legislation for years. He said he was concerned by a report Tuesday in The Washington Post that highlighted draft revisions proposed by the NRA that he said "waters down the bill tremendously."
The change sought by the NRA would require police to prove a purchaser had reason to believe the ultimate owner was not entitled to a gun — a threshold that advocates say would gut the bill.
"It seems logical to me if we want to be effective and efficient that we would make sure that we close the loopholes," Cummings said.
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment. In February, an NRA spokesman told The Baltimore Sun that the group would oppose the Cummings measure because it did not focus on what it saw as the underlying problem: a lack of prosecutions of existing gun laws.
Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, said his group opposes House and Senate versions of the trafficking legislation because they would set impossible standards for anyone who wants to transfer a gun to someone else.
"In our minds, the ... standard has the effect of making it a rule that you can gift, raffle or sell [guns] in America only at your own risk," Hammond said.
Cummings said he took the unusual step of sitting in on an autopsy of a gunshot victim performed Friday in Baltimore in an effort to remind himself of the seriousness of the issue.
The victim, who Cummings and state officials declined to identify, was a man the congressman described as about the same age as his late nephew.
"It's not a pleasant thing to look at," Cummings said. "This was a human being who had plans and who probably had a girlfriend. The reality is that now I'm looking at a body."
The NRA-commissioned plan recommended that weapons training be voluntary for school districts. The report also included details on improving perimeter security at schools, installing interior door locks and streamlining mental health assessments.
Several school districts in the Baltimore region have historically been patrolled by police officers. The Baltimore school system has its own designated sworn police force, and police also serve as resource officers in Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
A task force in Howard County recently recommended that schools focus on visitor access in elementary and middle schools and emergency response training for staff.
Carroll County leaders voted in December to spend up to $650,000 for school security upgrades, including a buzzer system, and Harford County's school board approved about $1.6 million for added security measures this year.
The NRA-funded report offered few specifics on how many officers or armed staff members should be stationed at a school or what types of weapons would be most effective at combating gun violence. Hutchinson said those types of decisions should be left to local districts.
Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said teachers obviously favor finding ways to prevent gun violence in schools, such as increasing school counselors. But she said she was unconvinced by the report Tuesday.
"I can't envision any parent who'd want to see armed people in their children's elementary schools," she said. "That's just not what schools should be about."
Baltimore Sun reporter Erica L. Green contributed to this article.
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