Blunt Rochester Leads Education And Workforce Committee Democrats Call for Secretary DeVos to Clarify Testimony on Gun Violence and School Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-AL) and Education and Workforce Committee Democrats sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seeking clarification regarding her testimony on gun safety in schools.

This week, Secretary DeVos testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and Related Agencies regarding President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Education Budget Request. During an exchange with Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, DeVos stated that it was not the role of the Federal Commission on School Safety to study gun violence. 

“I’ve met with students, teachers, administrators, and parents who are rightly concerned about the frequency of school shootings and the availability of dangerous firearms in their communities. The administration took a step in the right direction by creating the Federal Commission on School Safety, but ignoring completely the role guns play is misguided and potentially dangerous,” said Congresswoman Blunt Rochester. “The administration assured families gun safety measures would be examined, and Secretary DeVos’ testimony is a clear departure from that promise. My colleagues and I on the Education and Workforce Committee seek clarification from the Secretary and the administration on the goals of the commission and urge them to recognize that a core element of creating safer school environments is addressing gun violence. We’ve got to put politics aside and put our students and communities first by taking a hard look at this epidemic.”


List of co-signers include:

  • Rep. Bobby Scott, Ranking Member (VA-3)
  • Rep. Susan Davis (CA-53)
  • Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-3)
  • Rep. Joe Courtney (CT-2)
  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (OH-11)
  • Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2)
  • Rep. Gregorio Kilili Sablan (NMI-AL)
  • Rep. Frederica Wilson (FL-24)
  • Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1)
  • Rep. Mark Takano (CA-41)
  • Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12)
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11)
  • Rep. Donald Norcross (NJ-1)
  • Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-8)
  • Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1)
  • Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13)

Link to letter here. 

Text of the letter below:

June 8, 2018

The Honorable Betsy DeVos


United States Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos,

On Tuesday, June 5th, you appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and Related Agencies to provide testimony on President Trump’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Education Budget Request. We write seeking clarification regarding your remarks on the Trump Administration’s Federal Commission on School Safety (“Commission”). Below is the exchange in question:

Senator Leahy: Will your commission look at the role of firearms as it relates to gun violence in our schools?

Sec. DeVos: That is not part of the commission's charge, per se.

Senator Leahy: I see. So, you're studying gun violence but not considering the role of guns.

Sec. DeVos: We're actually studying student school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school

The Commission was charged with recommending policies and funding proposals to prevent school violence.[1] A core element of combatting school violence is addressing gun violence, both in school and in our communities. The U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership per capita than any other country and has the highest rate of global mass shooters.[2] In a report released in March 2018,[3] nearly 60 percent of high school students fear gun violence at school or in their communities. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of children exposed to a shooting in their school or community will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mental health disorders, anxiety, and fear are on the rise in children and parents due to gun violence in school, in communities, or experienced second hand by watching events unfold on social media.[4]

Although the Commission cannot amend gun laws, the Commission can study and develop “meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school,”[5] which may include policy recommendations to Congress or regulatory actions for other agencies. Thus, the testimony provided on June 5 runs in conflict with the direction of the Commission. Further, a conversation on school safety void of the discussion of guns ignores a significant root of the problem. 

To provide clarification to the general public, please provide a written response that explains how the Federal Commission on School Safety will, in fact, study and provide policy recommendations regarding gun violence prevention measures as part of a comprehensive approach to ensure school safety.


[1] Fact Sheet: President Donald J. Trump is Taking Immediate Actions to Secure Our Schools

[2] How the US Gun Culture Compares with the World in Five Charts (CNN, March 2018)

[3] Protecting the Parkland Generation (Giffords Law Center, March 2018)

[4] Generation Parkland: How Mass Shootings are Affecting America’s Children – And How We Can Help (NBC News, March 2018)

[5] Trump’s School Safety Commission Won’t Look at Guns, Betsy DeVos Says (NYT, June 2018)

Press Contact

Kyle Morse, 202-695-0494