A chorus of Democratic lawmakers have joined Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in calling for Congress to act after a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
In a letter Friday, all 17 Democrats on the House Education Committee urged Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the committee's chairwoman, to convene hearings on school shootings, describing them as a "public health epidemic." The panel has not addressed the issue since February 2013 — two months after a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut left 20 first-graders and six adults dead, they said.
"Wednesday's preventable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, resulted in the deaths of at least 17 students and faculty," the letter said. "Sadly, since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago, more than 430 people have been shot in over 230 school shootings."
The letter adds pressure on Congress to address the pervasiveness of school shootings across the country, an issue DeVos raised during an interview Thursday with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
"Congress needs to be holding hearings on these issues," DeVos said, adding: "We've seen, you know, lots of finger pointing back and forth. But we need to have a conversation at the level where lawmakers can actually impact the future, because going back to and putting myself in the seat of one of those families impacted, one of these shootings is one too many. And we have got to have ...(Continued on next page)
an honest conversation, and Congress has to lead on this. It's their job."
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, said she "wholeheartedly" agreed with the suggestion and invited DeVos to testify.
"Families across the country are tired of waiting for Congress to step up, have the tough conversations, and adopt common sense gun safety and other policies to end this scourge in our schools and communities," Murray said in a statement.
Asked whether she believed teachers should be allowed and trained to carry weapons, DeVos said only that it was "an important issue for all states to grapple with and to tackle," and that it "needs to be part of the broader, more robust conversation about how can we avoid these things in the future."
DeVos did not say whether her department would encourage superintendents to work with law enforcement to identify troubled students. But she echoed a sentiment expressed by President Donald Trump about the need to address mental health issues, and noted that the suspect in the shooting, Nikolas Cruz, "put up lots and lots of signals and warning signs."
The Education Department has not indicated whether DeVos would visit Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In April, she made an unannounced visit to San Bernardino, California, shortly after a shooting at North Park Elementary School left one student injured and another student and special education teacher dead.
That same day, Trump delivered an address at the annual convention for the National Rifle Association, which provided at least $30 million in support during his presidential campaign.