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NRA-backed task force pushes to arm teachers, school staff

A National Rifle Association-funded task force on Tuesday outlined a package of recommendations aimed at improving school safety, leaving aside the new gun controls that Congress is considering and instead advising schools to train teachers and other school personnel to carry guns to protect their students.

“I have not focused on the separate debate in Congress about firearms and how they should be handled," said former Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who is heading up the National School Shield Program. The NRA has spent more than $1 million to back the task force, which was created in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut. 

The push to change the subject away from gun control and toward increasing the presence of guns in schools comes the week before Senate Democrats are expected to consider a package of new gun laws on the floor of the upper chamber. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the bill would expanded background checks for gun buyers and make gun trafficking a federal crime.

NRA unveils its recommendations to improve school security. NBC News' Danielle Leigh reports.

While the NRA has been working with members of Congress on legislative language for such proposals, it's publicly opposed to expanding background checks.

The group has also opposed a proposed ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, with some Republicans arguing that large and powerful weapons are necessary for self-protection.

The 225-page National School Shield report isn't offering specific recommendations for how many armed staff each school should have or the types of guns those people should carry -- though Hutchinson said the firearms could range from "sidearms, to shotguns, to AR-15s."

Hutchinson emphasized that the program should only be for those who are interested in going through 40-60 hours of firearms training.

"Let me emphasize -- this is not talking about all teachers. Teachers should teach," he said.  Hutchinson also said that the idea of arming community volunteers -- an idea floated after the Newtown shooting -- wasn't workable because of liability and other issues.

Instead, the focus is on arming staff who are employed at the school.  Joining Hutchinson on Tuesday was Mark Mattiolli, whose son was killed in the Newtown shootings. Other Sandy Hook parents have appeared at events on Capitol Hill and at the White House to advocate for stricter gun laws.  

Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

Mark Mattiolli, left, endorses new proposals laid out by Asa Hutchinson, right, after his announcement of the findings and recommendations of the the National School Shield Program at the National Press Club in Washington on April 2, 2013.

"As parents we send our kids off to school, and there are certain expectations and obviously at Sandy Hook those expectations weren't met," Mattiolli said. "This is recommendations for solutions. Real solutions that will make our kids safer." 

Arming school personnel is the first of eight recommendations included in the plan. Among the other ideas: an online self-assessment tool that schools can use to evaluate their facilities and safety policies; changes to state laws to allow school personnel to carry guns while they're in training; increasing coordination among law enforcement agencies; encouraging states to make school safety part of their educational requirements; making the task force a permanent group; creating a pilot program to assess threats and mental health; and increasing federal funding for school safety.

Hutchinson presented the task force's findings at the National Press Club, where he was protected by at least 10 security guards, some uniformed and some in plain clothes.  

"No, there's nothing I'm afraid of," he said when asked about the intense security presence. National Press Club executive director Bill McGowan said after the event that the security level was "unusual" and "definitely got our attention."   

Task force officials plan to make the report available at www.nrachoolshield.com. 

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