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Minnesotans respond to NRA's proposal for armed guards in schools

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A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner
A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner as National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks during a news conference at the Willard Hotel Dec. 21, 2012 in Washington, DC. This is the first public appearance that leaders of the gun rights group have made since a 20-year-old man used a popular assault-style rifle to slaughter 20 school children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, one week ago.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

At a press conference Friday, the National Rifle Association proposed adding armed security at all U.S. schools.

The organization's suggestion comes exactly one week after 20 children and six adults were shot to death in a Connecticut school. Members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation, and some members of the NRA, are divided on the proposal.

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre announced Operation School Shield during a presentation interrupted twice by protesters who shouted that the NRA is to blame for gun violence. LaPierre ignored the protestors and said violent movies and video games were to blame for the carnage that took the lives of 26 people inside Sandy Hook elementary school last week. Had there been an armed guard or police officer at the school that day, LaPierre said, maybe their lives would have been spared.

"With all the money in the federal budget, can't we afford to put a police officer in every single school," LaPierre said. 

Minnesota Democrat Tim Walz said, "I refuse to believe that our schools have to become armed encampments where our children don't feel safe."

Walz represents the First Congressional District.  He is a former educator and a current member of the NRA. The gun rights group endorsed Walz during his recent reelection campaign. But Walz said the plan suggested by the NRA ignores several other ways to try to reduce gun violence that he and other 2nd Amendment supporters are considering.

"From accessibility of weapons, to mental health parity, to background check funding; to every issue that's out there," Walz said. "But I can't state how incredibly disappointed I am with the approach taken this morning."

National Rifle Association Holds News Conference I
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre calls on Congress to pass a law putting armed police officers in every school in America during a news conference at the Willard Hotel Dec. 21, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Other Minnesota lawmakers also say the answer to last week's shooting must involve other options. Sen. Al Franken said he has listened to hunters, mental health professionals and other stakeholders who suggested — what he calls — common sense solutions. The Minnesota Democrat said some people are discussing tightening rules that allow private gun sales without a background check. Private sales amount to about 40 percent of all gun sales, Franken said.

"That's like having, at the airport, letting 40 percent of the people go through without being checked," Franken said.

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar also named several alternatives to the NRA's plan.  She supports renewing the ban on "assault weapons" and is open to exploring restrictions on high-capacity magazines.

"There are a number of things where we can come together in a common sense approach," Klobuchar said. "And I'm much more interested in talking about that going forward than the divisiveness. I think there's room to get something done here for the first time in years and there should be."

There are already armed police officers in Minnesota schools. In the Minneapolis Public School system, the third largest district in the state, 16 armed Minneapolis police officers work as liasion officers in more than 70 schools. The officers are more than armed security guards, former Minneapolis police chief Tim Dolan said.

"They're there for bus loading, bus unloading, traffic safety.  They also bond with the kids and help in many other ways," Dolan said. "So it's been a win-win, especially in the city of Minneapolis."

Dolan said school administrators and local law enforcement officials are those who are most qualified to make decisions about school safety — not the NRA.

Over the last several days, MPR News has spoken with Minnesotans in the Public Insight Network who identify as NRA-members. Many had opinions similiar to those of Joe DeSua of Apple Valley. DeSua teaches firearms safety classes for people who want to obtain a gun carry permit. He said armed security is a good idea, as long as it is part of a plan implemented by the schools, not by the state or federal government.

"I think that having either armed teachers in the classrooms or armed guards or armed police there will help diminish the chances of this happening or if they do happen will diminish the amount of damage done," DeSua said.

He said that teachers should have to volunteer to carry a gun and would have to undergo special training.

The idea of more guns in Minnesota schools and classrooms is not popular with the state teachers union. Education Minnesota president Tom Dooher in a statement said that the solution to gun violence is not more guns. However, Dooher added that if there is armed security in schools, it should be provided by police officers, and not teachers.

This story was produced with the help of the Public Insight Network. To become a source for Minnesota Public Radio, sign up at mprnews.org/insight.