The National Rifle Association's blunt call on Friday to train and place armed guards in every school in the nation as a way to "protect our children right now" has brought a divergence of opinion from school officials, teachers, parents and police officials.
But even those who said they might support some increased police presence on campuses as part of a broader safety strategy pointed out that the group's proposal was far too simplistic.
"It's not that they're simply there if something terrible happens," said Martin Miller, a math teacher at Hyde Park High School in Chicago, which has three armed police officers assigned to the building. The officers, he explained, are working to diffuse potential conflict within the schools as much as to protect students from outside intruders. One also doubles as a wrestling coach, Mr. Miller said, and the officers spend time with students serving as de facto counselors or social workers.
"In a lot of ways, I feel like our school is safer than a lot of other schools," Mr. Miller said, adding that the school also had metal detectors at every entrance. "But as a whole, just having a police officer or an armed guard or someone with a gun is not going to stop the violence. I think it's a lot more complicated than that."
While about a third of public schools nationwide have armed guards on campus, those who do not say they worry that allowing police officers with guns in schools would be far more destructive to the day-to-day culture of schools than any benefit they might bring in protecting against the worst-case scenario.
"To have an armed guard at every school completely sends the wrong message in so many ways about what schools are about," said David Fleishman, superintendent of the Newton Public Schools in Massachusetts. He added that in extensive discussions with principals, local police, parents and elected officials over the past week after the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, "not a soul" had requested that the schools hire armed security officers.
When the Cleveland school district overhauled its safety program a few years ago, it decided not to arm the 145 security officers stationed in school buildings. David Osher, director of the human and social development program at the American Institutes for Research, who advised the Cleveland district on safety, said that an armed guard does not necessarily make a school safer.
"In theory what the N.R.A. is saying is we want to put someone in so that if somebody breaks in, we'll shoot him down and everything will be fine and the only person that will be shot is the person breaking in," he said. "In reality, the problem is you might shoot someone who isn't in fact breaking in or you might shoot somebody else -- a student or a visitor or a teacher or other adult who is doing something else that is inappropriate that is perceived by that person as being threatening."
And many opponents of the rifle association's proposal pointed out that a security guard at Columbine High School did not prevent the tragedy there, and that even trained New York City police officers shot and injured nine bystanders in August in their pursuit of a gunman outside the Empire State Building.
As a practical matter, placing trained professional security officers in all of the country's schools would be costly, and it is not clear that there are enough people who could even do the job.
There are currently about 99,000 public elementary and secondary schools in the United States, along with about 33,000 private schools. According to the Department of Justice, there were 452,000 full-time law enforcement officers across the country in 2009, the latest year for which data is available.
Craig Steckler, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, called the rifle association's proposal unrealistic and probably unwise, Putting at least one officer in each of the nation's schools could mean hiring as many as 100,000 people, he said, expanding the ranks of state and local officers by one-quarter. Qualified applicants, he said, are already scarce.
"My city has 32 elementary schools, 5 middle schools, 6 high schools, and that doesn't include private schools," said Mr. Steckler, the police chief in Fremont, Calif., a city of 214,000 people. "My patrol force is 89 officers on all shifts. Where are we going to get 40-some additional officers?"
"I just don't believe that putting more guns on the campus is a solution," he added, saying that chiefs would rather see more resources devoted to mental health care and the control of assault weapons.
Another tier of the rifle assocation's plan would make use of local volunteers serving in their own communities.
The group proposed that it could train volunteers, like retired police officers or military personnel, to serve as school guards. Others said that even school staff could be trained.
"I have been saying for years that schools should have personnel, whether it is a janitor or a principal, who are armed," said John DeLoca, a father of a teenager and two other grown children who owns the Seneca Sporting Range in Ridgewood, Queens, and is a licensed gun dealer and an N.R.A. certified firearms instructor. "We have fire extinguishers all over the place and hopefully we never have to use them. In the same way, we need trained armed personnel at schools."
Joseph Dedam, 16, a junior at Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School in Elizabethtown, N.Y., said the proposal "is proactive. Right now, the best a school can do is have the teachers lock the classroom door and have the kids try to hide in a corner. But this is a situation where you can't fight fire with water. You need to fight fire with fire." He added, "you would not want a school official who is scared of a gun or not fully trained to have one."
But a number of parents objected to the notion of a school staff member or a volunteer carrying a gun anywhere near their children.
"If we're going to do this -- which I don't know that we necessarily should -- they should be paid professionals," said Dave Lamb, a research physicist in St. Paul, who has two daughters in elementary school.
Other parents regarded the proposal as simply missing the point. Picking up her children from a Washington, D.C., elementary school on Friday, Courtney Carlson, a business consultant, said she felt "so totally outraged when I stepped into the school thinking that was the solution to a totally messed up problem."
"I think crazy people who get access to high capacity-rifles want to cause mayhem," added Ms. Carlson, a mother of three whose two eldest attend school. "Someone who has a gun that can shoot 200 rounds in under 10 minutes -- you don't stop that person unless you don't let the person have that kind of gun."
Richard Perez-Pena and Serge F. Kovaleski contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.