A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education defended an anti-gun video released by the department in which Secretary of Education Arne Duncan interviews a group of inner-city children about their experiences with gun violence and discusses the possibility of making guns “less accessible,” saying that it is well within the Education Department’s jurisdiction to advocate for the Obama administration’s gun-control policies.
Duncan met last week with a small group of students at Hart Middle School in the low-income Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. to film a video about gun violence that is currently featured on the Department of Education homepage.
Duncan questioned the children on their experiences with gun violence, pressed the children to detail incidents of gun violence that had killed their family members, invoked the Newtown massacre, and raised the possibility of making guns “less accessible” in his conversation with the students, which was later edited into a video that ended with a voice over of a student’s statement, “Every time I walk, I see bullets everywhere.”
Duncan’s recent video marks another in a series of recent public statements and press releases Duncan has issued on the subject of gun control, indicating that he, like Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is doing his part to add his own department’s perspective in the administration’s push to enact gun control.
An Education Department spokesman told The Daily Caller that he sees no problem with Duncan participating in the gun-control debate, and answered in the affirmative when asked if Duncan’s duties as education secretary should involve advocacy for President Barack Obama’s gun-control proposals.
“I’m not going to tutor you on the importance of school safety right now,” the Department spokesman told TheDC. “Check the news the past couple of months to find out if the educational department has a role to play in this debate.”
“I recently visited Hart Middle School, talked to a fantastic group of students there, and tragically every single one is dealing with this in their day-to-day lives,” Duncan said in his introduction to the video. “Several of them have had family members not just shot, but killed. These children deserve more. Their stories are both inspiring and heartbreaking… we have to create a better climate, a better country, a safer place for them to live and learn.”
The Education Department released a 4:23 edited video of the conversation, which is featured on their website. The department also released video footage of the full 51 minute conversation, which is linked on the website but not featured as a clip.
WATCH THE EDITED VERSION:
WATCH THE FULL, UNEDITED VERSION:
Duncan’s private conversation at the school, also attended by camera operators and at least two other adults, began with six students. A seventh student was escorted into the room approximately four minutes into the discussion by an adult, according to the full unedited version of the video.
“I don’t know how the students who ended up in the room ended up in the room,” the Education Department spokesman said.
All seven students in the discussion had firsthand family experience with gun violence, and one student admitted on camera that he had been expelled from his previous school for using a deadly weapon to injure a classmate.
Student suggestions to Duncan about how to reduce violence initially included creating more “places to go and chill after school” and “I think we should have a middle school rugby team,” according to the full unedited version of the video.
“A rugby team?” Duncan asked.
“Yeah, I played at my old school,” the student replied.
Duncan then shifted the conversation by asking, “Talk to me a little bit about guns in the community. How prevalent is that? How much do you guys worry about it?” (6:30 of full version)
“They shot your stepdad?” Duncan asked a girl who was describing her stepfather’s shooting. “Did your stepfather die, or. He was killed? Yeah.” (8:45 of full version)
“Your sister? Did she lose her sight?” Duncan asked after a student said her sister had been accidentally shot in the eye. (16:30 of full version)
“Walk me through the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut,” Duncan said to a student who had mentioned the Sandy Hook shooting. “You said that changed your thinking. Walk me through what that made you think, or what you feel now.”
“I’ve actually spent a decent amount of time with the teachers from that school, and with the parents, and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Those families will never be the same. That school will never be the same,” Duncan told the students about Sandy Hook. (20:55 of full version)
“What if we had less access to guns?” Duncan asked the children. (16:45 of full version)
The 4:23 edited version of the video concludes with a solemn statement from Duncan.
“The thing that makes me really sad and angry is that for all of you — 100 percent of you — to know someone who’s been shot, to me that’s crazy. Like, that’s not how, you guys are, how old are you? Twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old? You guys are little kids who should be having fun. And for that to be the norm, for all of you to have that as a big part of your life, doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to you guys,” Duncan said. (3:44 of edited version)
The screen then cut to black as a voiceover of one of the students said, “Every time I walk, I see bullets everywhere.” The video ends with an image of the Education Department seal.
Duncan previously met in mid-March with student activists who had rallied on Capitol Hill one day prior to meeting with Duncan to urge lawmakers to enact “positive approaches in response to gun violence,” according to the Education Department website.
Jasmine Jauregui, an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition — which recently staged its “No Peace with a Piece” National Week of Action agitating for gun control measures — was prominently quoted in the Education Department’s official summary of the meeting. Jauregui and other Youth Justice Coalition activists signed a statement in March that reads, in part, “For all of us who have grown up around guns, the idea that guns make us safer is ridiculous. America is addicted to guns, and that addiction is killing us,” and urges lawmakers to “Stop the manufacturing and sale of handguns.”
Duncan began his current campaign shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre in December. Duncan delivered a keynote address, billed by an Education Department press release as “his first public appearance since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary,” at Neval Thomas Elementary School on Anacostia Ave. on Dec. 1. In the address, he called for “comprehensive protocols and policies to protect students from violence.”