WASHINGTON – Following a New York Times report that U.S. Department of Education was considering guidance permitting school districts to use federal funds to purchase firearms for teachers, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and Appropriations Committees, on Thursday spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate about his amendment to the FY 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that would prevent U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from letting school districts use federal funds under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant (SSAE) in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to arm teachers.
“Reports this morning suggest that Secretary DeVos is planning to do the bidding of the firearms industry and put our kids at risk by allowing federal funds to be used to arm teachers in direct contravention of federal law,” Murphy said. “I have offered an amendment that will reiterate what has been the policy of this Congress, not Congress in general, but this Congress that federal funds should not be used to arm teachers.”
“That is not what parents want. That is not what students want. That is not what teachers want. And that is not what the evidence tells us will make our schools safer. I hope she [Secretary DeVos] listens, and I hope ultimately that this Congress acts,” Murphy added.
The full text of Murphy’s speech is available below:
Thank you, Madam President. I'm about to speak on an amendment to the underlying appropriations bill. My amendment is number 4004, but before I do, I ask unanimous consent that the following Senators be added as cosponsors to that amendment 4004, they are Senators Baldwin, Menendez, Van Hollen, Blumenthal, Reed, Feinstein, Markey, and Carper.
Thank you very much, Madam President.
Madam President, maybe one of the most memorable moments from Secretary DeVos' confirmation hearing was her response to a question that I posed to her. I thought I was giving her a softball. I thought I was giving her a very easy question at the end of my five minutes when I posed a simple question to her, whether she thought that it was a good thing to have guns in schools. I thought that she would give me an answer about how, of course, listening to teachers and parents - as she claims to have done during her career in education - that more guns in schools was not the right thing to protect our kids, and, instead, she said that, yes, in fact, she thought that that question should be left largely up to the states because of, quote, potential grizzlies. The idea that there have some schools that may need guns inside to protect against wild animals. I assume she would answer that question differently today. It became a bud of jokes. But as it turns out, what we may be learning today is that the secretary was indeed serious.
Reports this morning suggest that Secretary DeVos is planning to do the bidding of the firearms industry and put our kids at risk by allowing federal funds to be used to arm teachers is in direct contravention of federal law. I have offered an amendment that will reiterate what has been the policy of this Congress, not Congress in general, but this Congress that federal funds should not be used to arm teachers. First let me speak about why we have taken that position as a Congress, why Republicans and Democrats have voted for legislation that prohibits federal dollars from being used to arm teachers. First, we listen to teachers when we set educational policy, and teachers have told us that they do not want to be responsible for carrying firearms. Two different polls of teachers suggest that three out of four definitively state that they think their kids will be less safe, not more safe, if those teachers are armed. And they tell us that because they know how difficult a teacher's job is. I have a first grader and a fourth grader in the public schools today, and I'm in awe of how many things we ask our teachers to do today. We ask our teachers to teach earlier than ever before. We ask them to be social workers, we ask them to engage in conflict resolution, we ask them to be nurses, we ask them to teach a range of children. We ask them to interact with the community, show our kids a broader view of the world, we want them on call to answer our questions as parents all of the time. Our teachers are probably the greatest multitaskers in this country today and they don't want an additional job description which comes with having to be trained and carry a firearm at all times, guaranteeing that firearms stay out of the reach of little children.
Earlier this year, we saw a series of events which tells us what happens when you do put guns inside classrooms. In one incident, a teacher accidentally discharged his gun at a high school in California. Ironically during a class devoted to teaching public safety. Three kids were injured when that gun accidentally went off. In another incident this year, a school resource officer accidentally discharged his weapon while inside a school in Alexandria, just down the street from the United States Capitol. In Maplewood, Minnesota earlier this year, a third grader managed to pull the trigger on a gun in an officer's holster firing a bullet into the floor. And on the same day in Florida, a parent discovered one school resource officer's gun in a faculty bathroom. Now it’s important to note that those last three incidences were with respect to school resource officers. School resource officers whose entire job it is to engaged in public safety. Who, I would assume, in these cases had serious training on how to handle a weapon. And so if these mistakes are being made with school resource officers, image what will happen when first grade school teachers and art teachers whose job is not primarily to learn how to handle and store and protect a firearm are equipped with these weapons.
And the evidence also tells us that putting more guns into facilities putting more guns in the hands of civilians doesn't solve for the problem that we identify. A comprehensive study on the effects of Right-to-Carry gun laws across the country found that violent crimes actually increased each additional year after Right-to-Carry Laws passed. In fact, it increased by 13% - 15% in a ten year time frame after Right-to-Carry Laws were put into effect. Another study of 111 of the most recent gun massacres showed that not a single one of them, not a single one of them was interrupted by an armed civilian. The F.B.I. did their own analysis in which they showed that unarmed citizens are more than 20 times more likely to end an active shooting than armed offices are, excluding police officers or security officers, civilians. And so the data tells us this is not the way to protect our kids, teachers are telling us this is not the way to protect our kids, and most importantly, congress has told the secretary that this is not the way to protect our kids.
Earlier this year we passed, as part of the omnibus appropriations bill, the Stop School Violence Act. This is a new source of funding that allows for schools to engage in trying to keep their kids safe. A really important piece of legislation supported by Republicans and Democrats. Now, admittedly, this is not the source of funds that Secretary DeVos is reportedly going to offer guidance on, but it's important to note that when we set up a new fund specifically dedicated to make schools safer, we wrote into the legislation this phrase, “no funds within this new appropriated account to provide firearms or training, no amounts provided as a grant under this part may be used for the provision to any person of a firearm or training in the use of a firearm” That's Republicans and Democrats doing that together. But, more importantly, the statute that she claims to be relying on, or reportedly is going to offer guidance on, is Title IV, which is kind of a grab bag of federal dollars to be used for a variety of school initiatives. In that statute today, Title IV offers this to the secretary. It says that “with respect to violence, the promotion of school safety, such that students and school personnel are free from violent and disruptive acts through the creation and maintenance of a school environment that is free of weapons.” So the Title IV language allows for money to be used to try to quell violence, but there is a specific phrase here that seems to give clear guidance to the secretary because you can use the grants for a school environment that is free of weapons. And yet, reportedly, the secretary is about to issue guidance saying that, that money can be used to load schools up with weapons, that is in direct contravention of the statute itself and it is certainly in contravention of the spirit of federal education law given the act that we passed earlier this year. That prohibits school safety dollars from being used to arm teachers
I understand that the hour is late on the appropriations bill and so it is very unlikely that my amendment will get a vote. My amendment would make clear that Title IV dollars cannot be used to arm teachers. But I hope that as this bill ultimately heads to conference, we will revisit the clear congressional intent that we have expressed this year to keep federal funds away from arming teachers. And I hope that the secretary, as she considers whether to issue this guidance to states, will look again at the statute, and come to the conclusion that she does not have the authority to allow states to use money, federal money in order to arm teachers. It wasn't a joke, as it turns out. It wasn't just a phrase that she uttered in a congressional hearing that drew a lot of attention on the internet. Secretary DeVos is reportedly considering allowing federal funds to be used to arm teachers. That is not what parents want, that is not what students want, that is not what teachers want and that is not what the evidence tells us will make schools safer. I hope she listens and I hope ultimately this congress acts. I yield the floor.