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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 5, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Betsy DeVos Stirs Fresh Outrage: Says School Safety Panel Won't Study Role of Guns

"Secretary DeVos is just admitting what we knew all along—that the Trump administration's pledge to keep kids safe from gun violence was not serious," said one gun control advocate

Jessica Corbett

Gun control advocates are outraged after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos suggested that a student safety commission formed after a gunman murdered 17 people in Parkland, Florida will not examine the role of firearms in school violence.

"Frankly, Secretary DeVos is just admitting what we knew all along—that the Trump administration's pledge to keep kids safe from gun violence was not serious," Robin Lloyd of the group Giffords told VICE News. "The secretary was finally willing to admit that this administration does not have the courage to take on deep-pocketed gun manufacturers and focus on the solutions that could make a difference."

At a Senate panel on Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had asked DeVos, "Will your commission look at the role of firearms as it relates to gun violence in our schools?" She responded, "That is not part of the commission's charge, per se."

"So you're studying gun violence but not considering the role of guns?" Leahy followed up. "We're actually studying school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school," DeVos said.

Asked by Leahy whether an 18-year-old high school student should be allowed to purchase an AR-15 style assault weapon—the gun of choice among mass shooters—and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, the education secretary said that is "very much a matter for debate."

The Federal Commission on School Safety "has been charged with quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school," according to the Education Department's website.

Although an Education Department spokeswoman later told The Huffington Post that gun violence is, in fact, "one of the 27 items to be addressed by the report" that the commission is developing, DeVos's answers to Leahy's questioning on Capitol Hill still frustrated gun control advocates.

"We wouldn't accept this lack of critical thinking and problem solving from American high school students, and we shouldn't accept it from Secretary DeVos either," remarked Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

Beyond the "obvious outrage" that DeVos's comments provoked, Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, highlighted concerns that commission members—DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen—lack expertise on school safety issues. 

Although the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland has spurred a national student-led movement demanding stricter firearm laws, gun violence in schools has not ceased. In just the two months that followed that mid-February massacre, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, there were more than a dozen school shootings.

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