Flake opposes NRA plan to arm school security guards

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- When Sen.-elect Jeff Flake needed their help during the darkest days of his campaign last year, the National Rifle Association had his back.

Late in the race, the powerful group sent its leader, Wayne LaPierre, to the state to stump for votes while also spending big money to help Flake to stay competitive in a surprisingly tight senate contest.

But Flake wasn't ready to return the favor Wednesday as he slammed the NRA's plan to station armed guards in the nation's classrooms.

"I was troubled by that proposal, greatly troubled by that kind of Washington mandate, federal involvement in local schools," Flake told 3TV.

The NRA first made their pitch for armed school security one week after the shooting spree at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. that left 20 children and eight adults dead.

The move was immediately canned by politicians of all strips, gun control advocates and school officials across the nation as an insensitive and unsafe response to the mass killing.

But Flake's opposition to the plan appeared to be more rooted in his conservative philosophy of limited government than concerns of safety.

"Schools, with regard to curriculum, with regard to teachers and staffing, those decisions are best made on the local level," Flake said. "As well as security issues are best made at the local level as well, not some edict from Washington."

Flake will be sworn in Thursday as Arizona's 11th senator in the state's 100 year history. To get the job, Flake had to fend off a much tougher than expected challenge from his Democratic opponent, Richard Carmona.

At one point it appeared the race was a dead heat as Flake's standing had dropped in the polls and Carmona was playing to large sold out audiences.

It was during that time LaPierre showed up to personally throw his and the organization’s full support behind the then six-term congressman. It was the second time Flake won the NRA's endorsement as the group backed him during the primary election.

LaPierre made the endorsement at the Scottsdale Gun Club, an exclusive gun shop and shooting range that sells the same types of weapons used in the Newtown shooting.

At the time of the endorsement, the club was also selling a high-powered minigun that can shoot thousands of rounds per minute.

During the late September speech, LaPierre said of Flake, "he has had a strong record in Congress and a proven record of commitment to the advancing the freedom of American citizens."

Flake, who grew up on an Arizona ranch, has earned a consistent "A-rating" from the gun organization. And after LaPierre spoke Flake said, "Thank you Wayne for all you do for this country, for all you do to protect our second amendment rights."

Throughout his political career , Flake has been tight with NRA, running numerous pieces of legislation supported by gun rights activists.

That loyalty paid off during the election as the NRA shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of Flake, according the political watchdog Center for Responsive Politics.

According to the website, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action Independent Expenditures spent $321,713 helping Flake win his seat.

The group spent more money on only five other candidates last year, which included Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama.

In the case of Obama, the NRA spent more than $3.1 million trying to oust the president while paying about $890,000 in support of Romney.

Overall, the money made up only a small part of Flake's total take. According to federal campaign finance reports, Flake raised and spent more than $9 million on the campaign.

He replaces Republican Sen. Jon Kyl who is retiring after 18 years in the senate. Flake's election was considered to be an easy pick-up for Republicans, but the strong showing from Carmona changed that.

After it appeared the race was a tie, Republican and conservative group started pumping millions in to Flake's campaign coffers.

Toward the end of the race Flake was outspending his opponent by big numbers and ended up winning by about 68,000 votes statewide.