Gun lobby ad takes aim at the First Family

Thu, Jan 17, 2013, 00:00

Ahead of US president Barack Obama’s gun control announcements yesterday, the National Rifle Association, the main lobbying organisation for US gun manufacturers and owners, released a video that opened with a cartoon image of a lunchbox sporting the presidential seal.

“Are the president’s kids more important than yours. . ? they have armed guards at their school, why don’t yours”? asked the voice accompanying the image.

It is the NRA’s latest move in the campaign to arm school officials and resist federal gun control legislation.

But when it called on American schools to take up arms in the wake of the Newtown school massacre one month ago, it probably didn’t have Joe Arpaio – America’s “toughest sheriff” – and his posse in mind. About 400 from Arpaio’s 3,450 so-called sheriff’s posse, made up of community volunteers, reported for school in Maricopa County, Arizona last week. They patrol the streets around more than 50 schools that don’t fall under local police jurisdiction.

Posse members

“It’s mostly the best guys, the Qualified Armed Posse members we send out around schools,” said Sgt Buddy Acritelli, one of those in charge. “They’re like uncompensated officials, but they cannot self-activate and each of the sheriff’s deputies oversees nine to 15 of the posse.”

Acritelli would not disclose how many of the men sent to schools were armed, or what kind of arms training they received. Last March, a local TV station questioned posse training tactics, and claimed that “a look into the backgrounds of about 2,000 of [the members] revealed arrests for dozens of different crimes”.

Gun-wielding makeshift security guards are not unique to Arizona, where attorney general Tom Horne proposed amending state law to allow one educator in each school to carry a gun. More than eight states now support legislation to allow the arming of school officials.

The small town of Butler in Pennsylvania began recruiting ex-state troopers to patrol its schools before the first Newtown funeral. School officials in Champaign, Illinois, are the latest to consider training a handful of local high school administrators as auxiliary police officers. So far, however, only Utah and Kansas allow guns, including concealed carry weapons, on public school campuses.

“There’s a big difference between actively arming school officials and just not disarming them,” said Clark Aposhian, one of Utah’s leading gun instructors who organised a concealed-weapons training seminar for 200 teachers in Salt Lake City.

Aposhian compares possessing a firearm to annually certifying the fire extinguisher by his desk, saying that “if we ever need them, we need them in a big hurry”.

“I know a massacre like Newtown can happen anywhere, but I also know that in Utah, it wouldn’t have ended with 26 deaths, because someone in our schools would have been armed against it.”

Most gun rights advocates say the federal government should leave firearms regulation to state legislation.

In response to federal measures, some of America’s most extreme gun enthusiasts, calling themselves the Citadel Community, plan to create a self-sustaining “patriotic American family town”, in the remote mountains of Idaho.

According to the group’s website, prospective members must sign a so-called Patriot Agreement mandating that every adult resident own an AR-15 rifle and 1,000 rounds; and that those aged 13 and up pass gun proficiency tests. A firearms company called III Arms is the Citadel’s chief financial backer.

On Saturday, enthusiasts will launch the first national Gun Appreciation Day which aims to rally people to firearms shops and firing ranges in protest against Obama’s plans. A battle looms.