Betsy DeVos stuns Senate Democrats, says Trump's Parkland school safety commission won't study guns

"That’s not part of the commission’s charge, per se" DeVos told a stunned Senate panel

Published June 6, 2018 3:37PM (EDT)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (Getty/Mark Wilson)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (Getty/Mark Wilson)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a Senate committee on Tuesday that the Federal Commission on School Safety, formed by President Donald Trump in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, will not examine the impact guns play in school violence.

The statement, provided in testimony, stunned many of the panel's Democratic members. Perplexed senators who wondered how the commission could ignore the topic when it was a former student with a military-style assault rifle that left 17 students and staff dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February.

"That's not part of the commission’s charge, per se," the education secretary said in response to a question from Senator Patrick J. Leahy, D-VT, about whether the commission would study the impact of firearms in school shootings.

"So we'll look at gun violence in schools, but not look at guns?" Leahy shot back in response. "An interesting concept."

"We are actually studying school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school," DeVos responded.

Leahy followed up with a question at the core of the commission's stated mission, asking whether an 18-year-old high school student should be able to walk into a store and "moments later come out with an AR-15-style gun and hundreds of rounds in ammunition."

DeVos dodged the question, telling Leahy that the topic was "very much a matter for debate."

DeVos' comments contradict the mission statement of the commission. The Education Department's website says the commission was "charged with quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school," including a "discussion on minimum age for firearms purchases."

Later in the testimony, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, asked DeVos if the commission was looking into how other countries protect students from school shootings, including gun laws and mental illness treatment. DeVos, ignoring the question, said the commission is focused on where a "culture of violence comes from." She also said the commission is studying school discipline policies to find ways to identify students who may pose a threat to their schools.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, clarified after the hearing that "the secretary and the commission continue to look at all issues the president asked the committee to study and are focused on making recommendations that the agencies, states and local communities can implement," the New York Times reports.

"It's important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws — that is the Congress's job," Hill added.

Since the Valentine's Day shooting in Parkland, Republicans have assigned blame to Obama-era school discipline policies, video games, untreated mental health issues, the media, and most recently, pornography as a potential culprit for this American spate of violence. While there's no final word on what causes the bloodshed, ignoring the role guns play in perpetuating violence across the nation is majorly problematic.

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By Shira Tarlo

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