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Asa Hutchinson: Gitmo, Guns, And Governorship Plans


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Later in the program we will speak with a man for whom art and politics were intertwined. South African musical great Hugh Masekela will be with us. He talks about his years in exile and how he stays creative after decades of performing. That's later.

But first, we are going to continue our conversation with former Congressman Asa Hutchinson. He recently co-chaired a study examining the treatment of U.S. detainees during the U.S. campaign against al-Qaida. He was also the director of an NRA-funded taskforce on school safety that recommended the hiring of more armed guards in schools, and I asked him where some of the evidence supporting those recommendations comes from.

ASA HUTCHINSON: You take it for what's it worth. The NRA did fund this taskforce, but the taskforce was composed of former Secret Service, former Homeland Security, current experts in school safety that did these assessments and made these recommendations. And so why is this a best practice? Because they reviewed schools. They saw the school environment and what was needed and made these recommendations.

You know, for example, whether we want to or not, these schools are making decisions to protect those children. We want to give them the tools that they need.

MARTIN: One of the arguments, though, against this is that environments that have law enforcement personnel handling school safety sometimes are not trained in appropriate behavior for children. They don't understand child development, that that's not their expertise, so that they may not understand what's developmentally appropriate for a 12-year-old, for a 15-year-old, and that as a consequence a number of these schools are finding that more kids are being funneled into the criminal justice system and people are asking, is that better? Does that make us better?

HUTCHINSON: Well, that's a little bit of a side issue there.

MARTIN: Is it?


MARTIN: Is it?

HUTCHINSON: Yes, it is.

MARTIN: How is it a side issue when you consider that, in jurisdictions like Baltimore, you've got a third of the young people already under criminal - young men under criminal justice supervision?

HUTCHINSON: That's how you manage your school resource officers. It is a legitimate debate as to what their responsibilities are, but we're talking about armed personnel that protect children. If you don't want them carrying out school discipline - well, that should be their memorandum of understanding that they don't do that. If a school does not want them to engage in ordinary discipline matters, that should be set forth.

You say it's a sensitive environment. Absolutely. And so that's part of the training that they understand how to operate there. If you have a child that goes on an airplane, he's not afraid because there's an armed officer on the plane, a federal air marshal, because it's discreetly done. It's there for protection. They don't even know it. The children don't run away in fear. They feel comforted because they know and the parents know they'll be safe.

MARTIN: Finally, before we let you go, do I have it right that you have now announced your bid to run for governor of Arkansas? So frying pan, fire. You clearly have not lost your appetite for public service. Is there something that you learned by digging into these two issues that you'll carry forward that has kind of changed the way you think about something fundamental in the way you think you might approach public service if you should prevail?

HUTCHINSON: Well, the safe route is not to engage in controversial issues, but I've engaged in a number of them and I hope people see that - hey, this guy, even though he's a conservative, he works across the aisle. He works with people who don't think the same.

In our taskforce on detainee treatment, I work with incredible, incredible bright minds that don't think the same way I do, but we reach good conclusions and work together on this, and so I think it's a lesson in public service that we've got to find what brings us together and - rather than just what divides us, and I hope they see that in some of the things that I've done in public life.

MARTIN: Asa Hutchinson. He co-chaired the taskforce on detainee treatment at Guantanamo Bay and he also spoke with us about his work with the NRA-funded study on school safety. He was kind enough to join us from our Washington, D.C. studios.

Mr. Hutchinson, thank you so much for joining us.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.