U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been tapped—along with other cabinet officials—to serve on a White House task force that will examine gun violence, mental health services, and other policies related to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last week.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the panel will be different from other, similar, Washington panels in that it has a very tight time frame for completing its work. The group, which will be led by Vice President Joe Biden, will present its recommendations to Obama in January, in time for the president's State of the Union address. Then, Obama will work with Congress to make the panel's ideas a reality.
Duncan, who was named the most anti-gun member of the cabinet in 2009 by the National Rifle Association, will be working on the task force with Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
Obama signaled that he'd like to see the panel consider a ban on military-style weapons, such as the one used in the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 students and six staff members were killed. And he said that while the "Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms" that doesn't mean that "an unbalanced man" should be able to get a rifle as easily as the school shooter, Adam Lanza, did. What's more, most Americans support background checks for would-be gun purchasers, he added.
Obama cited the importance of mental health services in preventing similar incidents in the future. The country must ensure that "access to mental health care [is] at least as easy as access to a gun," Obama said.
Meanwhile, Duncan traveled Wednesday to Newtown to meet privately with educators—and to attend the wake of Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who tried to act as a human shield to prevent the deaths of her students.
And in Congress, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has released a pair of bills on school safety, one of which would make it easier for governors to call on National Guard troops to help in that area.
The other bill, the "Secure Our Schools" Act, would set up a joint task force between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Education Department to develop new safety guidelines for schools. It would also aim to make more accessible grants under the Justice Department's COPS Secure Our Schools program by lowering the local matching requirement to 20 percent, from 50 percent. The grants help schools install tip lines and surveillance equipment and to secure entrances.
The bill would also increase the authorization for the program to $50 million, from $30 million, which would essentially allow Congress to direct more money to it.
Photo: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan arrives with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., at the wake of Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung in Woodbury, Conn., on Wednesday. (Charles Krupa/AP)