JEFFREY BROWN: Tonight, a special PBS broadcast called “After Newtown” begins a national dialogue about the issues raised by that tragedy. Gwen Ifill will host this evening’s collaboration of our national news and science programs.
Yesterday, she sat down with Education Secretary Arne Duncan for the special. It was the former Chicago public school superintendent’s first interview since the killings.
Here’s part of their conversation.
GWEN IFILL: Secretary Duncan, where does the responsibility lie for action here?
SECRETARY OF EDUCATION ARNE DUNCAN: Gwen, it relies — it lies on all of us, all of us, as parents, as community leaders, as religious leaders, as political leaders.
No one gets a pass on this. And this is not a time to point fingers or lay blame. And, often, these things, there’s lots of inclinations to do that. But this is complex. And anyone who wants to sort of say there is a simple answer here, I think does a great disservice to the complexity and the urgency of fundamentally trying to make our country a safer place for our children.
GWEN IFILL: The president has asked the committee that you will be on, that Vice President Biden is going to spearhead to come up with solution or approaches within a month, before the State of the Union speech.
Do you worry that the outrage is going to fade before that happens?
ARNE DUNCAN: I don’t worry about the outrage fading.
I worry about our collective courage to break through, and, again, for me and for so many people, unfortunately, around this country, this is not a new issue. We have been fighting this issue for a long, long time. I — in Chicago, we buried a child killed to gun violence every two weeks. Think about that, Gwen. Every two weeks, we buried a child, the vast majority innocent children, one at their birthday party in the afternoon.
These aren’t — the vast majority aren’t gangbangers. And so I think this distinction. . .
GWEN IFILL: But outside of that neighborhood, it goes unremarked upon, mostly.
ARNE DUNCAN: So, that is what I worry about, is the lack of courage, the lack of willingness to break through.
We have an endemic here. And we need to change that in a very fundamental way. And, as I said, for the horror and the anguish and the pain, I do think the world has shifted. I think people have a sense that enough is enough.
And when you have, you know, 20 babies and six teachers and principals killed in a matter of seconds, a minute, I mean, in such a short amount of time, in a very peaceful, very safe community, everyone in this country — this has touched people in a different way. Everyone in this country feels vulnerable and wants something better for their own children.
GWEN IFILL: And most policy leaders, like you, and even people — individuals have said, this isn’t just about guns. This isn’t just about mental health. It’s a nuanced solution.
ARNE DUNCAN: It’s — yes, it’s very complicated. And I think one of the other risks or dangers is to oversimplify.
So, do we need less guns, not more? Absolutely. The president talked the other day about a ban on assault weapons. We have to take — you know, we have to look at the gun issue very, very seriously. But that, by itself, an important piece of the equation, but not the answer by itself.
And we have to talk about mental health. We have to talk about school safety. We have to talk about parent and community responsibility. For better or worse, in these mass shootings, the profile of the shooters are remarkably similar.
And when we have young people in our communities who are hurting, who are ostracized, who are bullied, who need mental health services and don’t receive them, there’s a grave, grave cost that we as a society take. I actually have a lot of confidence in our country at the end of the day. And I think — I think, given this horrendous tragedy, I’m optimistic.
I can’t promise, I can’t guarantee you, but I’m optimistic that we can get our country to a much, much better place. And our children — and our children, and our families, and our communities, they deserve no less.
GWEN IFILL: Put yourself in the shoes of school superintendent, school principals, school administrators around the country now trying to figure out what to do, how to speak to this.
What to do, how to speak?
ARNE DUNCAN: I think you have to do a number of things.
First of all, you have to have honest conversations with our children. And if they’re scared, if they’re afraid, finding lots of different vehicles, avenues for them to address that fear, whether it’s talking about it, whether it’s writing about it, whether it’s drawing about it, I think the worst thing you can do is sort of sweep this all under the rug.
Our children are smart. They watch T.V. They read the newspapers. They listen. And I would doubt there is a child in this country who isn’t thinking about this. And I know my two young children are thinking about this quite a lot.
We have to help teachers and principals deal with their own fears. And, you know, they don’t want to be in the line of fire. You know, they could easily — they see themselves as those teachers who got killed, as that principal who got killed. And what can we do to help the adults deal with those difficult issues?
How do we help those children and those families who are — we know are on the margins, who are struggling? How do we get them, not just as a school system? But as a community, how do we get them the help and the support they need, so that they don’t end up in this kind of situation?
And then, finally, how do we make sure our schools are absolutely as safe as possible? Our schools have been forever these safe havens, safest places — often safest places in the community. And we need to continue to make — do everything in our power to make sure that they are.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much.
ARNE DUNCAN: Thank you.