Gun rights groups say new NRA-backed recommendations to have a trained armed guard in every school may be prohibitively expensive and unworkable.
The NRA-sponsored "School Shield" report calls for all schools to have either a School Resource Officer (a member of law enforcement), or an armed member of school personnel who's received 60-80 hours of training.
"The armed guard approach would be prohibitively expensive," says Erich Pratt, director of communications at Gun Owners of America. "At any one time there are 135,000 police on duty in the country, and there are about that many schools. That shows you how huge of a deal it would be."
The cost could be upwards of $5 billion dollars, according to Bruce Hunter of the School Superintendents Association, who estimates that each officer costs $50-80,000 per year. Others put the total figure at around $6.6 billion.
Other gun rights groups share GOA's worry about cost of officers in schools. It's "a major consideration," says Dave Workman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. "We all know that local school districts are historically strapped for cash...But balanced against that a lot of parents are going to say 'what's my kid's life worth?'"
GOA backs allowing teachers to carry guns, rather than training special personnel. "Teachers and principles who are authorized by their state to concealed carry should be authorized to concealed carry in school....As far as the armed guard approach, it's not possible to have enough of them to cover any school."
Pratt suggests armed teachers would be better at defending kids, as well as being cheaper. "At Columbine they had an armed guard...he may have been on a lunch break."
Workman is also open to teachers carrying concealed: "I recall what happened in Pearl, Mississippi...an assistant principal...ran to his car, grabbed a pistol, and stopped a teenage shooter."
A spokesman for a gun control group says he can explain why the NRA and GOA differ. "The NRA is in the pocket of the gun makers and their proposal is designed to sell more guns," said Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, while the GOA is "more based on radical anti-government ideology and arming every citizen to the teeth."
Everitt points out that in the Columbine incident, armed guards "did absolutely nothing to deter the shooters." He believes the answer is to allow fewer illegal guns on the streets.
The NRA proposal is more palatable to Everitt than allowing teachers to carry concealed. "You'd go with someone who is a trained security officer. Our teachers are not soldiers."
Regardless of cost, schools are increasingly demanding the SROs, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. "Our training calendar had more than doubled," says Canady. "It's clear from the calls we're getting that more agencies are adding police in schools."