WASHINGTON -- In a highly anticipated press conference on Friday, the National Rifle Association announced that after a week of reflection following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it decided the way to prevent another such tragedy was to place more guns in schools.
"I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school -- and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January," said the NRA's top lobbyist Wayne LaPierre in a speech at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.
But having armed security on-site failed to prevent the deadliest mass shooting at an American high school.
In 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 15 people and wounded 23 more at Columbine High School. The destruction occurred despite the fact that there was an armed security officer at the school and another one nearby -- exactly what LaPierre argued on Friday was the answer to stopping "a bad guy with a gun."
Deputy Neil Gardner was a 15-year veteran of the Jefferson County, Colo., Sheriff’s Office assigned as the uniformed officer at Columbine. According to an account compiled by the police department, Gardner fired on Harris but was unsuccessful in stopping him:
Gardner, seeing Harris working with his gun, leaned over the top of the car and fired four shots. He was 60 yards from the gunman. Harris spun hard to the right and Gardner momentarily thought he had hit him. Seconds later, Harris began shooting again at the deputy.
After the exchange of gunfire, Harris ran back into the building. Gardner was able to get on the police radio and called for assistance from other Sheriff’s units. "Shots in the building. I need someone in the south lot with me."
The second officer was Deputy Paul Smoker, a motorcycle patrolman who was near the school writing a speeding ticket. When he heard a dispatch of a woman injured at the high school, he responded. He, too, fired at Harris but didn't stop him.
LaPierre said having armed security on the scene is necessary so someone is there to shoot back. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said. "Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away -- or a minute away?"
But in chaotic situations, it's often impossible to identify the "bad guy," as Smoker said in his account of Columbine: "There was an unknown inside a school. We didn't know who the 'bad guy' was but we soon realized the sophistication of their weapons. These were big bombs. Big guns. We didn’t have a clue who 'they' were."
"That's the point," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at a press conference on Friday afternoon, denouncing LaPierre's solution. "There were two armed law enforcement officers at that campus, and you see what happened. Fifteen dead ... 23 wounded."
New Jersey Chris Christie (R) also said on Friday that he doesn't believe having armed guards will make schools safer or encourage learning.
On Wednesday, violence prevention researchers and a large number of education, health and civic groups discouraged putting more guns in schools.
"Inclinations to intensify security in schools should be reconsidered," they wrote in a statement. "We cannot and should not turn our schools into fortresses. Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in a school parking lot. We need resources such as mental health supports and threat assessment teams in every school and community so that people can seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help."
Research also has shown that highly visible efforts to increase school safety -- such as armed guards -- make children feel less safe at school, undermining their ability to learn.
The NRA did not return a request for comment, and LaPierre refused to answer questions during his press conference Friday. Instead, the organization said it would begin responding to media inquiries on Monday. LaPierre is also scheduled to be a guest on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
Clarification: A previous headline on this article referred to "guards." It has been edited to make it consistent with the article, which originally reported only the single guard.
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Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
"I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html"><em>Fox News Sunday</em></a>. He argued that shooters often choose schools because they know people will be unarmed.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)
"If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school," he <a href="http://www.wtop.com/610/3162096/Gov-Is-it-time-to-arm-school-officials">told WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show</a> Tuesday, warning that Washington may respond to such a policy with a "knee-jerk reaction."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) & State Sen. Frank Niceley (R)
Gov. Haslam says he will consider a Tennessee plan to secretly arm and train some teachers, <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/tennessee-armed-teachers.php">TPM reports</a>. The legislation will be introduced by State Sen. Frank Niceley (R) next month. "Say some madman comes in. The first person he would probably try to take out was the resource officer. But if he doesn’t know which teacher has training, then he wouldn’t know which one had [a gun]," Niceley told TPM. "These guys are obviously cowards anyway and if someone starts shooting back, they’re going to take cover, maybe go ahead and commit suicide like most of them have."
Oklahoma State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) & State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R)
State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20121217_336_0_OKLAHO168827">told the Tulsa World</a> he plans to file legislation that would bring guns into schools, calling their absence "irresponsible." “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended – to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it," he said. "I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come." Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) told the Tulsa World that teachers should carry concealed weapons at school events. "Allowing teachers and administrators with concealed-carry permits the ability to have weapons at school events would provide both a measure of security for students and a deterrent against attackers," he said.
Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)
Baxley, who once sponsored Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, <a href="http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2012/12/17/florida-legislator-allow-guns-in-schools/">told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune </a>that keeping guns out of schools makes them a target for attacks. “We need to be more realistic at looking at this policy," he said. "In our zealousness to protect people from harm we’ve created all these gun-free zones and what we’ve inadvertently done is we’ve made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
At a Tea Party event Monday night, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/rick-perry-guns-in-schools_n_2322185.html">Perry praised a Texas school system that allows some staff to carry concealed weapons to work</a> and encouraged local school districts to make their own policies.
Minnesota State Rep. Tony Cornish (R)
Cornish <a href="http://www.kdlt.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22736&Itemid=57">plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers to arm themselves</a>, according to the AP.
Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R)
In an email <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/oregon-state-rep-dennis-richardson-teacher-guns-stopped-connecticut-shooting_n_2317444.html?ir=Education">obtained by Gawker</a> and excerpted below, Richardson tells three superintendents that he could have saved lives had he been armed and in Sandy Hook on Friday: <blockquote>If I had been a teacher or the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and if the school district did not preclude me from having access to a firearm, either by concealed carry or locked in my desk, most of the murdered children would still be alive, and the gunman would still be dead, and not by suicide. ... [O]ur children's safety depends on having a number of well-trained school employees on every campus who are prepared to defend our children and save their lives?</blockquote>
Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett
"And I'm not so sure -- and I'm sure I'll get mail for this -- I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," Bennett, who served as education secretary under Ronald Reagan, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/bill-bennett-education-secretary-connecticut-shooting_n_2311774.html">told <em>Meet the Press</em> Sunday</a>. "The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. It has to be someone who's trained, responsible. But, my god, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to."