How can a federal commission, charged with figuring out how to prevent the next school shooting, ignore the issue of guns?
That’s the question Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, put to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a letter sent Monday. In particular, Murray is trying to understand why DeVos recently told Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that assessing the role of guns in school violence is “not part of the [commission’s] charge, per se.”
DeVos’ deputy, Mick Zais, later clarified that the commission would be looking at “narrow” aspects of gun ownership, including age restrictions to purchase certain firearms.
None of that adds up for Murray, who thinks the commission should consider “meaningful” efforts to address gun violence, such as universal background checks and a ban on high capacity magazines.
“While the Commission continues to delay meaningful efforts to address gun violence, our nation’s children are paying the price,” Murray wrote. “Shifting the focus away from guns only shines a spotlight on the tight grip the [National Rifle Association] has on this Administration and the Administration’s inability to listen to the voices of the people you claim to serve.”
Murray also has concerns about the way the commission has, in her view, diminished opportunities for public input. She noted that the panel’s first “listening session” was held during the day, in Washington, D.C., with little advanced notice for students, community members, educators, health care providers, and others to make travel arrangements.
And Murray is really concerned that DeVos herself choose to skip that meeting because she was traveling to Europe to explore school choice and career education in three countries. Murray said DeVos’ absence was a “telling demonstration of your disinterest in public input and dialogue.” She also noted that the rest of the as did the rest of the official commission members, who include Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. Each sent a representative instead.
Murray asked DeVos a host of questions about how the commission solicits public input. She wanted to know, for instance, whether the secretary plans to attend future listening session in person, and how she’ll make sure the public has enough has enough advance notice to participate. She also asked if the NRA was involved in setting the scope of the commission’s work.
So what does DeVos’ team think of the letter?
“Senator Murray’s grandstanding does nothing to keep our nation’s students safe at school, while the federal commission on school safety is hard at work on behalf of our nations students and educators,” said Elizabeth Hil, DeVos’ spokeswoman, in an email. And, she added, “The NRA will have absolutely no say and no sway in the commission’s work.”
She said the commission has set an “aggressive” schedule of meetings, field visits, and listening sessions to gather public input. It will produce a “resource guide” by the end of the year to help schools implement “proven [school safety] practices.”
Hill added that there was no criteria for participating in the listening session, held June 6. Participants signed up on a first come, first served basis. “Both the morning and the afternoon slot filled up fully, with parents, educators and major stakeholder groups alike well represented,” Hill said. She added that anyone who is unable to participate one of the commission’s four listening sessions can email ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org
And on the limited role of guns in the commission’s research, Hill said: “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. ... If Senator Murray wants to change gun laws in this country, she should look to her own body, since Congress makes laws, not the commission.”
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