PHILADELPHIA — A number of school, union, and political leaders in the Philadelphia region were not eager Friday to let the National Rifle Association be their guide on how to protect students and staff from the type of tragedy that occurred last week in a Connecticut school.
A week after a shooter entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and gunned down 20 children and six adults, the NRA announced what it said it saw as the best way to prevent a recurrence "of this unspeakable crime."
The group's suggestion: Put an armed police officer or "properly trained" local volunteers in every school in the nation.
"Guns and armed guards will not help students resolve important issues or problems in their lives," said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan. "Counselors, nurses, nonteaching assistants, and psychologists provide much more in the way of care and support to our children than armed guards."
The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers were equally adamant.
"Guns have no place in our schools. Period," the groups said in a joint statement. "We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees."
The NRA's proposal is "a nice concept," but an unlikely one to put into practice because of tight municipal budgets, said Raymond Hayducka, police chief in South Brunswick and president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.
"In an ideal world, we'd have a lot more police officers. We'd have police officers on every street, but it's just not realistic," he said.
While Camden City schools security guards are not armed, the school board has a working relationship with the city's police department in which armed officers visit schools daily and "pop in and out" as needed, said Gaylen Conley, executive director of district security.
"Having armed officers could be very significant help" in Camden schools, Conley said.
"The Colonial School District has had unarmed security personnel, all former law enforcement professionals, assigned to Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School and Colonial Middle School for a number of years," said district superintendent Maryellen Gorodetzer. "Looking forward, we feel it is critical that there be a focus on mental-health supports and finding the financial resources for them on both the state and national level."
No potential step will be "rejected out of hand" in the West Chester Area School District, said communications program director Rob Partridge.
He emphasized that "there is no single way for preventing these events from occurring."
"We would worry about any one person who makes a statement that there is a specific solution, that there is a shortcut, that there is an easy remedy. All reasonable people realize that's just not the case," Partridge said.
Three Philadelphia elected officials, all Democrats, bluntly rejected the NRA's recommendation.
Some Philadelphia public schools - and some high schools already have city police in them - have an unacceptable level of violence, Mayor Nutter said Friday, but guns for all are not the answer.
The NRA's message "was an insult to the lives of those children" killed in Newtown, Conn., Nutter said. "That we would face the prospects of shoot-outs in our schools, and utilize the precious and declining resources in public education to put armed personnel in every school, is insane."
Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke called the proposal "ridiculous. One week after the massacre of tiny children in Newtown, the NRA still refuses to recognize the simple reality that there are too many deadly weapons in the United States."
Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, chair of the Education Committee, called the proposal "the most foolish thing I've heard all day."
Blackwell said she supported the Second Amendment, but said the rights of gun owners need "to be tempered with common sense and good will."
While not commenting directly on the NRA proposal, Gov. Christie, a Republican, said Friday that posting armed guards outside schools would not make classrooms safer or encourage learning, according to an Associated Press story. Guards would have to be stationed by every classroom, he said, since there are multiple ways to get into a school building.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has called for a thoughtful discussion on gun violence, mental illness, and exposure to violent video games.