National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre accused politicians and the media of exploiting last week’s Parkland school shooting in an attempt to expand gun control laws he claimed would not succeed during an impassioned speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday.
His solution? The NRA’s School Shield program.
“As usual, the opportunists waited not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain. Chris Murphy, Nancy Pelosi, and more cheered on by the national media, eager to blame the NRA and call for more government control,” the NRA leader said.
He continued, noting that though some lawmakers are calling for fewer guns, they did not appear willing to remove armed security from the White House, Capitol Hill, or Hollywood because the idea was “ridiculous.”
“Any American school that needs immediate professional consultation and help with organizing and defining these solutions should call the National Rifle Association’s School Shield program,” LaPierre said, offering the service free of charge for any school in the U.S.
“I’ll tell you this, that’s more than anybody at the Democratic National Committee or NBC News or The Washington Post is offering.”
So what is the School Shield program?
The NRA’s School Shield Task Force was introduced in December 2012 following the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School with the goal of improving school security and preventing future school shootings in the U.S.
Former Congressman and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson led a group of independent security experts — including a former director of the U.S. Secret Service and a former Homeland Security chief — who visited schools across the U.S. to develop a plan to improve school safety strategies in schools nationwide.
In April 2013, the NRA published a report with the findings of the task force’s initial investigation, along with eight recommendations on best practices for school security.
Those recommendations included implementing a model training program that would teach school resources officers how to respond in crisis situations, a proposal to change state laws where necessary so that a “selected school staff member” would be allowed to carry firearms in schools, the creation of a pilot program on “threat assessment and mental health,” and tougher requirements for schools on safety measures, among others.
After the report was released, Hutchinson said that, per the plan, those staff members tasked with carrying a weapon in schools must be certified under a 40- to 60-hour training program and undergo an extensive background check. The cost, he estimated, would be around $800 to $1,000 per person.
That report became the basis for the School Shield program that exists today, according to the NRA website.
How does it work?
The current version of the School Shield program is a five-day training course that instructs members of local communities on how to assess their school’s “climate, physical security, communications systems, and overall preparedness.”
According to a copy of the training program application, only designated law enforcement officials with three years of service or more are eligible to participate in the course. It is taught by certified NRA instructors who are current or former law enforcement officers.
Training topics include defining potential security threats, how to conduct a security assessment, emergency response protocols, and incident management.
The first-ever School Shield training seminar was held in Williamson County, Tennessee, in December 2015.
Cpl. Michael Johnson of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, a participant in that first training, said it provided him with “new resources” that would help him protect the students and children in his local community.
“Attending the National School Shield training gave me a new skill which I can use to help my community protect our children,” Johnson said. “By learning how to spot vulnerabilities, I can help all stakeholders in the safety of our children do our best to protect them. The training not only reminded me of things I had previously learned, but it gave me new resources that I can employ in assessments of any school facility.”
Some have compared this program to the idea of arming teachers in schools being touted by President Donald Trump and other members of the Republican Party. The training program itself does not arm teachers or staff members; however, the School Shield study completed in 2013 does advocate for such a policy.
Schools that host the training programs for law enforcement officers in their community are invited, post-training, to apply for a grant from the NRA to fund the security improvements their officers recommend.
These grants have paid for physical school security improvements such as doors with advanced security locks and buzzers, as well as window films that prevent the glass from shattering if shot.
Sheila Brantley, the National School Shield program director, called the grants a “cornerstone” of the program.
“That is what I believe makes the National School Shield program so attractive. By providing tools and resources designed to help schools identify potential security vulnerabilities, as well as the funding to implement necessary security improvements, the program helps remove the barriers to information and/or funding that have previously slowed progress in making our schools more secure,” Brantley said.
The School Shield program is one of several suggestions provided by lawmakers and those involved with gun legislation to improve security in schools across the nation following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed when a gunman opened fire last week. Others include the Fix NICS bill, red flag laws, and increasing age restrictions on the purchase of semi-automatic weapons.