In this polarized society, there isn’t much gray area when it comes to the National Rifle Association.
Idaho politicians love the organization, because NRA endorsements tend to lead to election wins. Detractors will paint the NRA as the root of all evil for its unwavering support of Second Amendment rights, even in the aftermath of school shootings.
To the naysayers, there’s no way that the NRA can devise an effective program to make schools safer — unless we’re talking about arming teachers, janitors and administrative staff.
Well … the NRA is more than a powerful lobbying organization that browbeats Congress into supporting the Second Amendment. The NRA is a lead player in promoting tighter security in schools through its School Shield program, developed after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
Political solutions, such as arming teachers or passing more gun-control laws won’t solve the problem; there is no way to effectively legislate against “crazy.” The NRA is taking a more substantive approach, providing consulting and a variety of security options to schools or communities wishing to take advantage.
And it’s all free of charge. In fact, the NRA offers grants to help schools implement security measures.
“After Sandy Hook, it was obvious there wasn’t anyone doing anything about school security, and working with local law enforcement in the process,” said former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, a longtime NRA board member. “We secure everything else of importance in our society — whether it was our money, our homes, or valuable possessions — but not our children. In some instances, when security was offered, it was refused and sometimes in a very visceral way.”
But times have changed. When I worked on Capitol Hill in 1984, I could walk in and out of congressional offices without notice from security personnel. Security at the Smithsonian was practically non-existent. Those days were gone a long time ago, and there have been no mass shootings in those buildings over the last 35 years. Yet school shootings happen way too often.
“We’ll spend thousands of dollars to put a big scoreboard on the wall of a gymnasium, but we will not go for a lesser cost of a metal detector at the entrance of a school building,” Craig says.
Sheila Brantley, director of the NRA School Shield program, is working to change the culture in schools. “We want to have our schools protected, and we want to help in any way we can.”
Early in November, Brantley’s staff — which includes law-enforcement experts — held a five-day training session in Gooding, telling local officials what to look for in terms of vulnerability on the school grounds.
“If schools are vulnerable in the exterior perimeter, then we need to talk about that, because it’s the first layer of protection,” she said. “If you are just trying to take care of the interior, then you are missing the first layer. An overall vulnerability assessment is key, because how are you going to work to improve something, or even identify where you’re at without looking at vulnerability.”
Gooding Police Chief Dave Fisher says his officers learned a lot from the training, “and that helps us get ahead of the problem.”
The NRA offers a wide range of solutions, including arming teachers who are properly trained as a first line of defense. But Brantley is not suggesting that arming teachers is the answer for every school.
“We believe that no option should be off the table when it comes to protecting kids in our schools,” she said. “But what that security plan looks like is unique for every campus and community. We would rather let communities have access to all the information, so people can make educated decisions.”
Over the years, the School Shield program has provided three training sessions in Idaho, and Brantley welcomes more and invites people to view the website (nraschoolshield.org).
The Gem State will never be ranked toward the top in educational funding. But I suspect Idaho could be among the safest schools in America if education and community leaders would take up Brantley on her offer.
Brantley’s consulting fee certainly is priced right.
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Chuck Malloy, a Silver Valley native and longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.