In his first public appearance since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called on the nation to tighten gun control laws, improve access to mental health, and curb the glorification of violence in movies and video games.
"Are we doing enough to keep children safe from harm? I don't think so, and neither does President Obama," Duncan said in remarks at Neval Thomas Elementary School in Washington.
Declaring this a "collective responsibility," he specifically urged federal lawmakers to reduce the size of gun clips, reinstate a ban on assault weapons, and ensure existing laws are being enforced. His remarks came about an hour before the National Rifle Association scheduled its first press conference since the shooting.
Earlier this week, Duncan attended some of the memorial services for Sandy Hook victims. He will be a part of President Obama's newly created commission earlier this week, led by Vice President Joe Biden, which has been tasked with creating concrete proposals for gun control, mental health services, and school safety changes in the wake of Sandy Hook.
As a member of the anti-violence task force, Duncan said he'll spend the coming weeks talking to folks across the country, from educators to gun owners—all of whom, he said, share common values. "We value our children," he said.
"We will see change," he promised.
Duncan, gathered with District of Columbia education and political leaders, observed a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m., marking one week since a gunman's shooting spree began at the school, killing 20 1st graders and six members of the school's staff.
Curbing gun violence has been a very important issue for Duncan. As Chicago Public Schools' CEO, he stood at an anti-violence rally in April 2008 and said: "This doesn't happen in other countries. We just value our right to bear arms more than we value our children, and our priorities are fundamentally backwards." At that time, 20 students had been killed by shootings in Chicago Public School so far that school year—the same number who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary last week.
In October 2008, he turned down an award from the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence saying he didn't deserve it with handgun deaths at two per week in his schools. The Chicago Sun-Times quoted him as saying, noting that he was choking back tears: "I don't feel I can quite accept this award, not quite yet. I don't feel I have earned it."
In fact, when Duncan was named Education Secretary after Obama was elected, the National Rifle Association deemed him the most anti-gun member of the Obama cabinet.
The March 2009 article in the NRA's monthly magazine read:
He can incessantly and hysterically use his bully pulpit to promote repressive gun control as an absolute necessity "for the children." ... What he has done to support the gun-ban movement in Illinois he can now do on a vastly larger scale. Moreover, the Department of Education publishes a vast amount of regulations and policy guidelines that affect public schools throughout the nation. There is every reason to be concerned that Duncan will turn the Department of Education into a tool to promote a gun-ban agenda in America's public schools...
Since becoming the nation's education secretary, he's participated in national forums against youth violence and pledged, alongside Attorney General Eric Holder, that "the Departments of Education and Justice will work side-by-side with our local and community partners, bringing all of our combined resources to bear, to help stem the tide of youth violence."
Michele McNeil contributed to this report.