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Indiana Bill Would Require Armed Guards In Schools

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The National Rifle Association on Tuesday released its long-awaited "National School Shield Report," a lengthy document that recommends that schools arm and train staff members who want to carry guns.

A few hours earlier, Indiana's House Education Committee advanced a similar measure -- but one that takes the NRA's logic even further.

While the NRA's model legislation would lift restrictions on guns in schools and require specific training for school employees who choose to carry guns, the Indiana amendment would make the state the nation's first to require all public schools to have an armed person with a loaded weapon in the building during school hours. After receiving a yet-to-be-determined training course, any school employee -- a teacher, principal, or janitor -- could become the school's guard, called "school protection officers." The amendment doesn't specify which firearms the "officers" must hold or whether the guns should be visible or concealed.

The Indiana amendment's sponsor, Rep. Jim Lucas (R), said he believes mass shootings like the one in Newtown could be prevented by more firearms. "The way they are right now, school is a gun-free zone. Tragically we see the tragic consequences of gun-free zones, defenseless zones like the Colorado theater, Columbine, and Virginia Tech," Lucas told The Huffington Post Wednesday. "We have to work to overcome the stigma that firearms are a bad thing."

The gun mandates come in response to the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, in which 20 children and six adults were murdered in December 2012, and against the background of a national debate over gun-control measures. More broadly, schools across the nation are grappling with a debate in light of Newtown and other incidents of school violence: the tension between potential threats of immediate danger to children's lives and the need to make kids feel safe in a school environment.

According to Marc Egan, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, 27 states are now considering various laws that would arm people in schools. "This is not the right approach," he said. "Parents do not want to see their kids' schools turned into fortresses."

The Indiana amendment was a last-second addition to a bill praised in the NRA report, one that would create a grant to expand the capacity and funding for "school resource officers" -- specifically guards trained to prevent violence in the school setting.

Rep. Linda Lawson, an Indiana Democrat, said she wrote an amendment that sought to define a "school resource officer" as a staff member trained to prevent violence, who would not carry a firearm. Lawson said she was surprised to see Lucas' addition, saying it completely changed the law, Senate Bill 1.

Lucas, a Republican who is a "benefactor member" of the NRA, brought his amendment to the committee Tuesday. To pass, it would have to clear the state House, which has a Republican supermajority, and then the Indiana Senate. Lucas said many teachers have approached him saying that they want the right to defend themselves and carry guns in school -- but national polling data says the opposite is true. Lucas said he hadn't seen the NRA report when writing his amendment, but that the proposals follow "the same logic."

In light of the Newtown shooting, President Barack Obama came out with a plan in January that would, in addition to gun-control measures, create new federal funding for mental health professionals and -- if a school wanted it -- "school resource officers" who could be armed.

But the idea of allowing armed guards onto school grounds, even with requisite training, is controversial. "Not in a million years should they be allowed to carry firearms," Lawson said. "This is a bad bad idea, an accident waiting to happen."

The Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, and youth groups recently proposed an alternative school safety plan to counter the NRA -- and the Obama administration. "We recognized that all of the work we've been doing could be rolled back because of what seems like a reasonable response -- to put more police in schools -- but we know there are a number of long-term detrimental consequences for young people," said Judith Browne Dianis, a co-director of the Advancement Project. "A real safety plan does not include increasing police presence and armed guards in our schools."

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