JUDY WOODRUFF: With Congress poised to take up gun control legislation in the coming days, the National Rifle Association battled back today, as it tried to shift attention to a different set of proposals. They include calls for arming trained personnel in every public U.S. school.
The NRA turned to former Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson to chair what it calls the National School Shield Task Force. He laid out the centerpiece of its 225-page study in Washington.
ASA HUTCHINSON, Former Undersecretary for Homeland Security: If you are interested in making our schools safer and to save children’s lives, look at these recommendations seriously, and this — the presence of an armed security in a school is a layer that is just as important as the mental health component.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Aimed at reducing violent crimes on school grounds, it is the NRA’s latest push in the gun control debate. The report includes proposals for revised state laws to allow trained personnel to carry firearms on school grounds, training for designated school personnel to handle active shooting incidents, and mental health pilot programs to reduce bullying and identify potential threats.
This review comes as Congress continues to pursue gun control legislation. The Republican-led House has not yet taken up bills in the almost two months since President Obama made this issue a priority at his State of the Union address.
But, today, Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings highlighted one area where he said Congress should act.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, D-Md.: Most Americans already think gun trafficking is a federal crime. I have news for you. It’s not. They have no idea that there is no federal law targeting firearm traffickers who commonly use straw purchasers to buy guns for convicted felons and other dangerous criminals who cannot legally buy guns on their own.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Scrutiny of such purchases has renewed calls for universal background checks. Recent polling shows nearly nine in 10 Americans support near-universal background checks on all gun purchases.
Calls for expansion of background checks and new penalties for gun trafficking has stymied action in the Senate. New legislation is expected on the floor when senators return from recess next week. It won’t include bans on assault weapons and on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
And five Republican senators, including Florida’s Marco Rubio, had vowed to filibuster any new gun restriction. Still, some state legislatures have already taken action on their own. After weeks of negotiation, Connecticut legislators agreed on a package yesterday, among the most far-reaching in the country, including universal background checks for all gun sales and bans on new high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Yesterday, leaders from both parties hailed the agreement.
STATE REP. BRENDAN SHARKEY, D-Conn.: It’s also critical that we send a message to Washington and to the rest of this country that this is the way to get this job done.
STATE SEN. JOHN MCKINNEY, R-Conn.: At the end of the day, I think it’s a package that a majority of people in Connecticut will be proud when we vote on Wednesday.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The bill is expected to pass both houses of the state General Assembly tomorrow.
The president returns to Colorado tomorrow to press his gun control proposals.
We get two views now on the NRA’s plan and where it fits into the bigger debate right now, first Asa Hutchinson, whom we heard earlier and was the lead author of today’s proposal on school safety. He’s not an NRA employee, but is consulting with the group on this issue. I spoke with him earlier.
Former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, welcome to the NewsHour.
ASA HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Judy. Good to be with you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we heard what you said today at the news conference. Why are more guns the answer to preventing violence in schools?
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, whenever there’s a tragic incident in a school, the first person who is called and the shooting stops whenever a police officer or an armed guard arrives.
That’s when the shooting and the death stops. So the quicker the response, the more lives you save. And the best response can be when there’s a school resource officer in the school or some other armed personnel. That’s the reason that that’s one of the solutions.
There’s many more parts to school safety, but that is an important part of it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But if someone is determined to come in to a school and harm people, why wouldn’t they be able to overpower one or two individuals who are trained?
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, if someone tried to come into a school, first of all, hopefully, the access controls that we recommend, the perimeter security, the surveillance cameras, all of these will come into play to delay that activity or prevent it.
But, sure, any good — bad guy can go in and try to break the systems down and get through. And then it’s a response capability. And the best response is somebody who is close and quick. You’re either going to call the police to come in 15 minutes later or you’re going to have someone there on site.
And this is not an unusual proposal. We have had armed guards in the schools since Bill Clinton recommended it while he was president. We just haven’t had sufficient.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me read you a comment from the person, the woman who founded and led the — and still leads the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman. She said — quote — “There’s no evidence that armed guards or police officers in schools make children safer. She said: “Columbine High School had an armed guard. Virginia Tech had a full campus police force.”
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, that’s why it’s not just one solution. There’s many solutions here.
But, for example, the training has totally changed since Columbine. So we see what happened there. Improvements have been made. But, for example, who talks about the Pearl High School in 1997 whenever an assistant principal after having two students shot goes out in his truck to retrieve his .45 semiautomatic, goes back in and disarms the assailant?
And so that indicates that there is evidence that you can stop an assailant whenever you have armed protection.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you mentioned that example earlier today.
Congressman Hutchinson, I also want to quote what the Brady Campaign, founded in the name of Jim Brady, of course, who was terribly wounded the day President Reagan was shot back in 1981 — the Brady Campaign said: “This is an effort that is missing the point,” because what the American people want, they are saying, is a comprehensive, broad-based approach to reduce gun violence, in other words, more than just something that is focused on adding armed guards in schools.
ASA HUTCHINSON: I would agree with part of it.
What we need is a comprehensive approach to school safety. And you can pass all the laws you want in Washington in terms of restricting guns. Bad guys are still going to have access to guns. And they’re still going to be a danger to the school.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying there’s no place for any additional restrictions on guns in this country?
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem of loss of life in schools.
And so if you want to address the problem of safety in schools, you have to have security measures in place. That’s what schools all across this country are doing as we speak.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me also ask you about a — as you know, there’s a measure that is going to be before the Congress in the weeks to come, universal background checks or a version of background checks. The polls are all showing now that the vast majority of Americans, 90 percent of Americans, think that that’s an appropriate way to go, to find out who is buying a gun, make sure they don’t have some problem in their history before they’re allowed to buy a gun.
What’s wrong with that?
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I agree that criminals shouldn’t have guns, convicted felons and people who have been adjudicated with mental problems shouldn’t have weapons, should not have access to them.
They need to be adequately put into the system. We first need to fix …
JUDY WOODRUFF: Adjudicated, though. That — but — so someone who is being treated for a psychological problem wouldn’t already be in a system, would they?
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I think the mental health professionals have some concerns about who is put into a database.
And so you usually articulate it as to those who have been adjudicated. There’s obviously threat assessments that have to be done otherwise. But that’s a mental health issue as to who is put in the system. But the problem is, 23 states are not putting that information into the system right now, so fix the system first. Fix the system first.
And that’s the best way to prevent those who are not supposed to be getting weapons, firearms, from getting them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: As a former member of Congress and as someone who was an official at the Department of Homeland Security, where do you see this issue going? Do you believe — I mean, there’s a lot more attention being paid to it. It’s certainly in the media. The American public is saying they want something done.
How do you — where do you see it headed?
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, Mayor Bloomberg is spending tens of millions of dollars to advocate for gun control legislation.
I would rather that money be spent in school safety programs. You can make a huge difference in safety across our country.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And violence outside of schools?
ASA HUTCHINSON: And where we’re going in my judgment is Congress will debate, as they always debate, and what you can agree upon is some real measures that we have recommended for funding, for better coordination, for some changes in laws to provide for the school safety equation.
That’s where I think we can reach agreement now. The rest is going to be an ongoing debate.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, thank you very much for talking with us.
ASA HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And now for a different view.
Mark Glaze is the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group of 900 mayors, including New York’s Michael Bloomberg, advocating for changes to federal and state laws.
Mark Glaze, welcome to the NewsHour.
What do you make of this proposal by the group? It was under the auspices of the NRA. It was led by former Congressman Hutchinson. It’s a package of proposals that includes one that would train armed guards and ideally have them in every school.
MARK GLAZE, Executive Director, Mayors Against Illegal Guns: Well, it’s a solution that nobody wants who is knowledgeable on the subject. Police think it’s a bad idea. Teachers came out against it.
They don’t want these guns in their classrooms. They think the answer is better background checks and tougher gun laws to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them so they don’t wind up in the schools killing 20 kids my son’s age.
But it’s altogether typical of the way the NRA has done business for a generation. It’s legitimately their view that an armed society is a safe society and that the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But the irony of this is that we have so many guns in our society, around 300 million, because the NRA has systematically whittled away at modest restrictions, so that they can now make the argument that, with so many guns out there, you’re never going to get them out of the hands of criminals. We had better arm everybody.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But they say — you heard what he was saying. Among other things, he’s saying it would serve as a deterrent.
If someone has the intention of going into a school, harming children, harming anyone, knowing someone is there with a gun is much more likely to keep somebody from doing that. It would at least cause them to think twice.
MARK GLAZE: You know, it’s possible, but if you look at the mass shootings that we have had recently, they’re all young men who are deeply troubled.
And you have to ask yourself whether, you know, the Columbine shooters who actually went into a school that they attended and presumably knew there were armed guards there, though they may not, Virginia Tech, big security on the campus there — if people are as troubled as they have to be to do the things that young men have done in recent years, I don’t know that an armed guard is going to stop them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about his argument, though, that this is an important part of a package that would make schools safer? They are talking about other steps as well.
MARK GLAZE: Well, I think that having armed guards in schools is something that school districts should have the choice to make. And some of them do.
I know that some of our mayors in Michigan have had off-duty police officers in the classroom for a long time. And there’s a general sense that there’s a greater sense of comfort having police there than paid security guards.
But I have to point out one last irony, that he assured people during the course of this event today that these security guards would be vetted, they would be safe because they would be given background checks, presumably to make sure that they were not felons or domestic violence perpetrators or seriously mentally ill, and could therefore carry a gun.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me broaden this out, Mark Glaze, and ask you about the overall effort to pass gun control legislation.
What has happened to the momentum? After the Sandy Hook shooting back in December, there was a lot of — it felt like there was momentum to do something about guns. Today, as Congress takes up legislation, we know that, as we mentioned, no assault weapons ban is included. A ban on or restrictions on high-capacity magazines are no longer included. What happened to that momentum?
MARK GLAZE: Well, I think that people who thought this would be quick or easy have not followed this issue and have not really followed the Congress recently.
I mean, Congress recently took more than 500 days to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which is, after all, about what it sounds like. It’s about helping women against whom violence has been perpetrated. I never thought that this would be done immediately or very easily.
I think what has happened is that a lot of senators and House members are still kind of living in a bygone era, when the NRA was the only game in town. Many of the senators who have not committed themselves or have said they will not have accepted a lot of NRA money and have known for a generation that there wasn’t a lot of political support or much grassroots activism on our side of the ledger.
That’s one of the things that our mayors and 1.5 million grassroots supporters, many of whom came to us after the Newtown shooting, are trying to change. But this is going to take some time. I do think we will pass a very good background check bill and a good trafficking bill.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that now the focus of your efforts and other gun control groups to just — mainly get background checks through? Is that what it’s come down to?
MARK GLAZE: Well, we think it’s really important that assault weapons and also high-capacity magazines, which are after all what make mass shootings mass — one person can fire for as long as they can as long as they have bullets, and they will have a lot of bullets.
But we have always said that the biggest solution, if you had to choose just one, is making sure everybody gets a background check, because, you know, well over 90 percent of the firearms fatalities in this country are related to handguns, and not to assault weapons. And the best way to address that without getting in the way of what you or I can do with a gun dealer is to make sure you can pass a background check.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We heard the comment just now from Asa Hutchinson, but you also hear it from some Democrats, from, shall we say, gun rights’ parts of the country, who say having the mayor of New York City as the face of the movement, part of this movement anyway, is — may not be helpful, that there are folks who care about gun rights and they would rather see somebody who understands that culture leading the charge on this.
MARK GLAZE: Well, you know, Mayor Bloomberg may not sell in some of those places in the same way Wayne LaPierre doesn’t sell in other parts of the country.
You can’t make the mistake of tying the principle and the debate to some of the people who are involved in it. Mayor Bloomberg is the co-chair of a coalition that has almost 1,000 mayors in it today. More than 100 of them are Republicans. They’re very different people who are all unified by one thing, that you can actually support the Second Amendment and have no intention of taking people’s guns away, but still do much more to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
So, I think people ought to focus on kind of the coalition and the ideas, rather than trying to demonize the person.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, just — and just quickly, we mentioned states like Connecticut passing tougher gun control. But there are other states that are pushing back and loosening restrictions on guns.
Could you end up losing the battle in the states at the same — you know, at the same time you’re trying to focus on Washington?
MARK GLAZE: No, I don’t think so.
In fact, there’s been a shift. The NRA has done most of the bad work that it’s done under the radar and without us in Washington noticing for the past 10 or 15 years. I mean, state by state by state, they have methodically passed outrageous laws like the stand your ground law that resulted in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and no arrest for more than a month for the perpetrator, though he may not end up being guilty.
They have done this across a range of issues. And so the fact that you’re actually seeing some pushback and seeing some good laws passed, including in my home state of Colorado, which has a very strong libertarian streak and a high tradition of gun ownership, if you can do it there, you can probably do it anywhere.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Glaze with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, thank you for being with us.
MARK GLAZE: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Follow our ongoing coverage of the guns debate on our home page.