LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson on Friday was named the head of a National Rifle Association effort to push for armed officers in the nation's schools, a move that could bolster the Arkansas Republican's conservative credentials as he prepares for a potential 2014 bid for governor.
The NRA announced that Hutchinson would lead a program that will develop a model security plan for schools that relies on armed volunteers. The effort was part of the gun lobby's response to the shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school last week that left 26 children and staff dead.
Hutchinson told The Associated Press that the National School Shield program was not aimed at requiring every school to have an armed guard at its school.
"That will be a decision that should be made by local school districts and local security plans," Hutchinson said. "Every place is unique."
Hutchinson said NRA board members reached out to him about the effort. He said he agreed once he was certain that it would be independent in developing its recommendations on school security.
Hutchinson, a former federal Homeland Security official, is considering a run for Arkansas governor in 2014 and is expected to announce his decision in January. He said the new NRA effort won't affect his decision on the race for the state's top office.
"It should not have any impact on that decision and obviously this is an important initiative," Hutchinson said. "It will be completed at least in its initial phase long before 2014 rolls around. This is much more urgent than a 2014 issue."
The move gives Hutchinson a chance to tout his pro-gun record in a state where Democrats and Republicans alike have long resisted gun control efforts. Hutchinson was endorsed by the NRA's political victory fund during his unsuccessful 2006 run for governor against Democrat Mike Beebe. Beebe, who is now serving his second term as governor, promoted his support of gun rights in one of his first ads against Hutchinson.
The NRA effort also comes as Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat who's running for governor, faces questions about his admitted extramarital relationship with a Hot Springs attorney. McDaniel, who has said he's not dropping out of the race, is a former police officer who has regularly touted his support of gun rights and has signed onto briefs opposing handgun bans elsewhere.
Hutchinson would not say whether he saw gun rights as a campaign issue if he does run, but said he believed there would be "healthy debate" on it in the Legislature during next year's session.
"We've got to do better in Arkansas in providing school security," Hutchinson said.
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo