“I teach at a school that has four armed police officers on campus every day, but it’s more than a quarter of a mile from the main office to my room, and I’m not even the farthest room away,” said Elise Robillard, a French teacher at Westmoore High School. “If [a student] put a loaded gun in their bag and came to my classroom and pulled it out and started shooting, by the time the police officer figured out what was going on and got to my classroom, we’d all be dead. This whole hallway could be dead before a policeman got here.”

Around the country, school systems sometimes rotate armed officers through schools or supplement them with unarmed safety agents. New York City’s school district is the largest in the country, with more than 1 million students. The NYPD has 350 armed school resource officers who rotate throughout the school system, and they’re supplemented by unarmed safety personnel who also report to the department. In Philadelphia, school officials have rejected armed patrols in city schools and instead use unarmed school police.

In rural Blount County, Ala., a tobacco tax is used to fund a squad of nine armed sheriff’s deputies and a supervisor who are assigned to work inside the system’s 16 schools on a full-time basis, superintendent Jim Carr said. They also assist in sports games and other after-school events.

An armed sheriff’s deputy assigned to Columbine High School the day of the massacre there in 1999 was unable to stop the violence, though police procedures around the country have changed since then.

According to a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department report released in 2000, the uniformed sheriff’s deputy was eating lunch in his patrol car at a park near the school when he rushed to the school in response to a radio report about the violence. The deputy briefly exchanged fire with one of the gunmen, but the gunman ran back inside the building to continue the rampage.

The officer radioed for assistance, and police followed the then-standard procedure of waiting for a SWAT team to arrive before entering the building. Since that tragedy, police procedures have been changed to call for responding officers to rush toward gunfire to stop a gunman first.

In his speech, National Rifle Association chief executive officer Wayne LaPierre said Congress should appropriate funds to post an armed police officer in every school. In the meantime, he said the NRA would develop a school emergency response program that would include volunteers from the group’s 4.3 million members to help guard children.

The NRA’s call came two days after a Kentucky county sheriff announced on Facebook that deputies would have an increased school presence beginning in January. The announcement was met with dozens of notes of thanks and positive comments from parents.

“Thank you so very much,” wrote one commenter. “I can stop stressing a little while at work now.”

“This is the best news we could have received for Christmas!” wrote another.

Monte Evans, a sixth grade teacher in Wichita, Kan., said schools should have a designated point person licensed and trained to shoot a gun.

“What am I going to stop them with? A stapler?” said Evans, an NRA member. “You need equal force.”

(Next page: Reactions of safety experts, teachers’ unions)