Former 3rd District Congressman Asa Hutchinson discussed placing “an armed presence” in schools on Tuesday (Jan. 8), but stopped short of endorsing the idea of armed teachers in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting tragedy.
Hutchinson’s remarks, which included his rationale behind entering the 2014 Arkansas gubernatorial race, were made at the Holiday Inn-City Center and were part of the monthly Q&Arkansas meeting.
Hutchinson appeared Dec. 21 at a press conference of the National Rifle Association (NRA), saying he would lead an initiative to study putting armed guards in schools.
“After Newtown, when the children finally went back to school, they had an armed presence in the school to assure the parents of safety and to give the children the confidence of safety,” Hutchinson said on Tuesday. “It’s a common sense approach. I think the question is, how is it implemented, how can we afford it, what are the best policies to do it? And that’s what we want to look at.”
TEACHERS SHOULD TEACH
Hutchinson said he did not “believe that teachers ought to be armed and it be their duty to protect the students.”
“I believe teachers should teach and others should protect,” Hutchinson said. “But it is possible that some schools – one or two, maybe an assistant principal, has the interest to go through the training certification program and that could be on-hand, trained response capability for the protection of the students.”
Discussing the options for how to fund any school safety reform, Hutchinson did not think the federal government was capable of paying for a comprehensive overhaul.
“If the federal government paid for it, it’d be $2 (billion) or $3 billion. I don’t think they can pay for it, and I don’t think they will pay for it, and I wouldn’t dispute that,” Hutchinson said. “But perhaps they can pick up the training dollars for some of our school resource officers and an expansion of those – of course, they’re only in about one-third of our schools right now.”
Hutchinson continued: “Another option is that it falls, as it does now, on the local school districts, and many of those can’t afford it either. And so there could be an option of some volunteers, who are trained and certified with a national standard willing to participate and volunteer their time to help their schools.”
Hutchinson credited former President Bill Clinton, whose impeachment proceeding he once helped to manage, as a driving force behind the school resource officer concept.
“President Clinton brought, while I was in Congress after the shooting in Columbine, a proposal of cops in schools. And he got that funded through Congress, which it was an initiative that really started the school resource officer’s effort,” Hutchinson said, comparing the plan to the current NRA effort.
“This (NRA plan) is not exactly the most dramatic proposal in the world,” Hutchinson added.
In addition to the “armed presence” factor, Hutchinson believes the government should “look even further than that to the architecture of our schools.”
ARCHITECTURE AND GUN CONTROL
“When we designed our schools for decades, we looked at our schools as open environments. That’s how we wanted to build our schools, and it wasn’t with security in mind. And so you have a whole rash of schools that were developed with some of the worst security plans imaginable.”
Hutchinson continued: “We’d like to be able to work with the architects to develop more in-house training, more emphasis upon security and safety of our schools as part of the fundamental plans. There are some architectural tweaks that can be done to make our schools more safe. It could be technology. It could be perimeter security. There are a whole host of answers that we want to be able to present and options for local schools to help make them more safe.”
Finally, Hutchinson said it is his plan to “focus the (gun control) debate.”
“I don’t know what Congress is going to do. I do believe there is a very serious effort on the part of the President and his administration to come in and have further controls on weapons, on firearms.”
“My problem with that is, you can pass all the laws that you want and it will not make our children any safer,” Hutchinson said. “That is my concern. And that if Congress did that and went home, with them saying, ‘We’ve done something,’ when in fact they haven’t done anything to protect our children. So I want to focus the national debate not simply on how you’re going to control firearms, but more importantly how are you going to protect children and provide them with the safe environment that they’re entitled to?”
In Fort Smith, Police Chief Kevin Lindsey, who was in attendance on Tuesday, said, “The bottom line is we have an excellent relationship with our school district. Dr. Benny Gooden (superintendent of Fort Smith School District) and his staff met with my staff (after the Newtown shooting) along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We’ve got officers in our high schools as SROs (School Resource Officers), and we’re working at continuing that relationship doing training ... not only with our public schools but with our private schools as well. We are on top of it and continuing to improve our practices, and keep our community safe.”
Switching gears to the gubernatorial race, Hutchinson acknowledged to attendees at what he called his “first campaign stop” that he would be running for governor in 2014. Hutchinson and Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, are the only candidates who have announced.
“People ask me, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ And the answer is very simple. If you’re engaged in leadership at a public level, if you’re engaged in leadership and believe you have capabilities, what a great joy it is to bring those leadership skills to the state of Arkansas that you love and make a difference for the state.”
After the event, Hutchinson said he would prefer to “let the Q&A stand” rather than submit to a lengthier interview on the state’s changing political landscape. (On Nov. 6, Republicans took control of both the Senate and the House.)
Still, Hutchinson did make time to tell The City Wire, “We (State Republicans and Democrats) have a tradition of working together. When a hard-fought election is over, you can set it aside. The legislature has always had that tradition, and I think it’s going to continue this time. You do it by focusing on issues and solutions. I think it’s always a challenge, that we don’t become like the Washington environment, but we’ve been successful, and I think we will continue to be. We’re a small state and we’re still able to work together.”
Specifically to taxes, Hutchinson said the issue is “a little bit more of a challenge because there’s stronger feelings and disagreements. It’s harder to find common ground on those issues sometimes because you want to manage prudently in terms of the fiscal standpoint.”
Hutchinson commended Gov. Mike Beebe on reducing the grocery tax, adding that the action is one “I’ve always been supportive of.”
“There are Republicans who want to do it a little bit differently, but they (the legislature) are going to work it out.”