Whether guns should be permitted in schools is an issue that should best be left to state and local decisionmakers, Betsy DeVos said in her confirmation hearing to become U.S. education secretary Tuesday.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., asked DeVos if she would support President-elect Donald Trump if he follows through with statements he made on the campaign trail that he would end gun-free school zones, calling them “bait” for school shooters.
“I will support what the president does but, Senator, if the question is around gun violence and the results of that, please know that my heart bleeds and is broken for those families that have lost any individual due to gun violence,” DeVos said.
Murphy has pushed for tougher gun laws alongside the families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn. He ended a marathon Senate floor speech on gun laws in June with the story of a Newtown teacher who died embracing a student during the attacks.
Following the Newtown attack, conservative state lawmakers around the country filed bills proposing looser gun restrictions in schools, laws to allow teachers to carry guns, and new school security requirements. Democrats, including Murphy and President Obama, pushed for stronger federal gun laws and background check requirements.
Murphy asked DeVos Tuesday if guns have “any place in or around schools.”
“I think that’s best left to locales and states to decide,” she responded.
After Murphy pushed again, DeVos referred to a school in rural Wyoming that had been mentioned earlier in the hearing. The school was described as having a special fence to protect it from grizzly bears.
“I think there I would imagine that there’s a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies,” she said.
At the end of the exchange, an emotional Murphy told DeVos he looks forward “to you coming to connecticut and talking about the role of guns in schools.”
You can watch the whole exchange on guns in schools in this C-SPAN clip.
So what has Trump said about guns in schools?
In a January 2016 campaign stop in Burlington, Vt., Trump pledged to end gun-free school zones.
“You know what a gun-free zone is for a sicko? That’s bait,” Trump told the crowd, according to the Associated Press, the same day President Barack Obama was speaking at a town hall event on gun violence. Obama had recently announced executive actions designed to curb gun violence, moves applauded by some Newtown families.
My colleague Andrew Ujifusa wrote at the time:
The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act was signed into law by former President George H.W. Bush in 1990 after being introduced by former Sen. Joe Biden, a Democrat, who is now the vice president. The key provision of the law is that it prohibits an individual from knowingly possessing and discharging a firearm on school grounds or within 1,000 feet of school grounds, with certain exceptions. As a law signed by a president after being passed by Congress, the Gun-Free School Zones Act cannot be undone by executive order."
Photo: Screen capture from C-SPAN coverage of Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing.
Related reading on guns in schools and school shootings:
- Donald Trump Pledges to End Gun-Free School Zones If Elected President
- A Year Later, Newtown Tragedy Yields Little Policy Change
- School-Violence Tip Lines Get a Second Look After Sandy Hook
- Use of School Shooter Drills Has Increased Significantly Since Newtown Shootings
- Sandy Hook Shooter’s Needs Went Unmet by Schools
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.