The man charged with developing the National Rifle Association's program to place armed guards in American schools defended the controversial plan Sunday against critics who claim it's a dangerous diversion from new gun restrictions.
Asa Hutchinson, a former U.S. congressman and Drug Enforcement Administration chief, said the NRA's system would help protect students against shooters like the one who killed 20 first-graders in Connecticut on December 14. Hutchinson said his "high-level panel of experts" would present educators with safety options, including detailed instructions on placing armed personnel in schools.
Hutchinson specified the NRA wasn't advocating teachers carry guns in school; rather, he suggested schools could follow the example of malls and movie theaters that employ retired or off-duty policemen.
And he pointed to the success of federal air marshals, the armed plainclothes law enforcement officers who ride on commercial flights to prevent criminal acts on planes. Both airplanes and schools are sensitive places where guns may seem out of place, Hutchinson said, but that hasn't prevented the air marshals from successfully preventing violence in the skies.
"What I wouldn't want would be someone carrying a terribly large weapon outside a school," he said. "For example, what's more sensitive than our airplanes? People resisted having weapons on airplanes, but I oversaw the federal air marshals. It's a deterrent. No one sees that weapon, but they are protected on that airplane, and it's a huge positive impact on safety."
Tighter gun control rules, which members of Congress have already pledged to introduce next year, are the wrong answer to a multifaceted problem, he claimed.
"My responsibility is school safety. I think that's where the debate should center," Hutchinson told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley on "State of the Union."
"The debate should not be on new legislation," he continued, arguing laws to tighten restrictions on guns were not the solution.
"That's the wrong debate to have if you want to talk about protecting children," he said. "We have one-third of our schools now, of the 23,000 schools, that have armed guards. Should the other two-thirds have armed guards? I certainly think it's an option they should consider. It's not a novel approach, it's a safety approach."
The NRA first laid out its plan on Friday in Washington. The event - billed initially as a press conference, though the group didn't take questions from reporters - was criticized by leaders like incoming Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent.
Bloomberg, an outspoken advocate for more restrictive gun control rules, wrote that the NRA "offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe."
Hutchinson said Sunday the NRA's critics were fundamentally wrong in their push for new laws, which he said would do little to protect schools against people bent on committing acts of violence.
"Let's help these schools, and let's not have a false debate that won't increase safety in the long term for the most precious commodity in our society," he said.