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De(ja)Vos: Education chief's decision to ignore guns' role
in shootings echos Bush debacle
James Alan Fox, Opinion columnist
Published 1:48 p.m. ET June 7, 2018 |
Updated 1:53 p.m. ET June 7, 2018
Video games, mental health the
NRA-backed Trump administration will do anything to make sure guns don't
enter the school violence conversation.
Speaking before a Senate
subcommittee, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced on Tuesday that
the role of guns would not be a topic for the new federal commission on
school violence as it begins holding public hearings.
"So you are
studying gun violence, but not considering the role of guns" remarked Sen.
Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., reflecting the kind of dismay that countless Americans
are likely feeling, especially the cadre of survivors of the Parkland
massacre who have become outspoken advocates for gun control.
stunning as DeVos's marks may be, we really shouldn't be surprised. The
White House has done its best to backpedal on President Trump's initial
post-Parkland promises to deal with guns after he received a strong rebuke
from his friends and supporters in the NRA.
To me, this seems like
De(ja)Vos, a posture reminiscent of a similar case of gun-blindness during
the George W. Bush administration. In October 2006, following a spate of
school shootings in Wisconsin, Missouri, Colorado and Pennsylvania within
the first few weeks of the academic year, President Bush, also a friend of
the gun lobby, felt compelled to convene a White House Conference on School
Safety. Gun control groups, including the Brady Center to Prevent Gun
Violence, were not invited to participate as the G-word was verboten. The
issue of gun control was not on the agenda. Instead, the focus was on
Back to the present, DeVos rattled off a litany
of topics that the commission would be considering, including ratings
systems for video games and other entertainment. This too is eerily
Reports following the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting that the
assailant Adam Lanzawas deeply immersed in violent video games prompted
questions about whether gamesmanship instilled in him the will and the skill
to commit mass murder. This served as powerful ammunition for those who
looked to deflect blame away from guns and over to the gaming industry for
the school massacre and similar atrocities.
Preoccupation with video
games, although hardly healthy, is more a symptom of personal problems than
a cause of them. For Lanza, it was his social awkwardness and reclusiveness
that impacted both his spending long hours playing games (violent games as
well as non-violent ones) and his desire to strike back against a society
that he perceived as unwelcoming.
DeVos also pointed out that
commission would examine mental health issues. This is a worthy focus, but
no worthier than the issue of guns. Expanding access to mental health
services is critical for many reasons, not just the prevention of school
violence. Certainly, students could benefit from expanding the number of
teachers, guidance counselors and school psychologists. Schools should adopt
a variety of proven curricula for teaching empathy, self-control and other
life skills. But are we willing to invest the resources? We have witnessed
sit-ins and walk outs by concerned teachers demanding enhanced funding for
Doing the right thing in terms of expanded student
services as well as enhanced gun control requires bold leadership in
Washington. Maybe if the students protesting gun policy all pledged to stand
for the national anthem at the beginning of the school day, the president
This country needs better control of who can have
access to guns as well as limits on the type of weapons that are available.
This country needs a White House that is not beholden to the NRA.
Among the many types and venues for gun violence, that which occurs in our
nation's schools has the greatest impact on our sense of safety and
well-being. In the wake of two horrific school massacres, this is a prime
opportunity to address the role of guns. The majority of Americans who now
support stricter gun control must insist that the commission reassess its
James Alan Fox is the Lipman
Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University
and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors. He is co-author of
Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. Follow him on