A push by the National Rifle Association to put armed security guards in every school would cost billions of dollars, according to school safety officers and the organization itself.
NRA officials repeated their organizations call on Sunday for the federal government to get behind its still evolving model school safety program, the powerful gun rights group's response to the Newtown, Conn. shooting that left 20 children and six staff members dead.
In an interview on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, former Arkansas Rep. Asa Hutchinson, the NRA's point person for the program, said it would cost the federal government over $2 billion to put a trained, armed security guard at every school.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre cited Israel, where armed guards stand watch at schools, as a model for the USA and said that lawmakers should find the money to support it.
"With all the money in the budget, if we can't come up [with the money] to do this, there something wrong in this country," LaPierre said in an interview on Sunday with NBC's Meet the Press.
Currently, about 70% of public schools don't have police officer and almost 60% don't have any security staff. Those with police tend to be big and urban, according to a USA TODAY data analysis.
The proposal has been criticized by some Democrats and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, who question the wisdom of putting weapons in an educational environment.
Some school security experts also said focusing on school shootings and armed officers would not stop random acts of violence, and could have a detrimental effect on schools.
"I don't think police are the answer," said Gregory Thomas, a former director of security for New York City public schools who now trains districts on preventing school shooting incidents. "They can't be seen as the sentry at the door. You move from being a school to something else. You don't want to chill the learning environment."
Mo Canady, the head of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said one armed guard would cost $80,000 per year, including salary, benefits and equipment.
The number of schools with security guards or police officers hasn't changed much since 2004, when 45% of schools said they had security staff present on a regular basis.
According to a 2002 Secret Service study of 41 targeted school attacks, in 8% of the incidents, a law enforcement officer ended the violence. In most cases, researchers noted, the attack was so quick that it could not be stopped.
In the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, an armed school resource officer and a security guard working were on duty when two students opened fire. The armed sheriff's deputy exchanged fire with one of the two gunmen but failed to stop him.
On the other hand, in 2001, school resource officer Richard Agundez Jr. stopped and arrested an 18-year-old student who had opened fire at a school office, wounding five people in El Cajon, Calif.
"When you're dealing with an armed assailant bent on harming people, the best defense you have is a person who is trained and armed to deal with that situation," said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Hutchinson defended the proposal, noting there was similar opposition to putting armed federal air marshals on airplanes, a post 9/11 security program he helped implement while an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration.
"There was intense debate that on airplanes, guns have no place, and yet we have a federal air marshal program that I helped to oversee, and which has provided a deterrent," Hutchinson said. "It has increased the safety of the airlines, and it's not like it's an armed camp when you go on the airlines."
LaPierre also stood by remarks he made in an event Friday billed by the NRA as a news conference -- though he took no questions-in which he charged the media and anti-gun lobbyists are intent on "blaming guns" whenever there is a tragedy.
LaPierre and the NRA were pilloried by some news organizations following his comments Friday, with the conservative New York Post disparaging LaPierre as "gun nut" and "loon."
"If it's crazy to call for putting police office and armed security in our schools, then call me crazy," LaPierre said. He added, "We're going to support an immediate appropriation before Congress to put police officers in every school," he vowed Sunday.
LaPierre also stood firm in his opposition to any new gun laws on Sunday, blasting an effort by Sen. Dianne Feinstein to reinstitute an assault weapons ban.
"It's a phony piece of legislation and I don't think it will pass for this reason : It's all built on lies," LaPierre said.
Meghan Hoyer and Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY