U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is calling for action against gun violence, fighting back tears during his first public interview since the school shooting that shook Newtown, Conn. last week.
Duncan sat down with PBS's Gwen Ifill in a special report that aired Friday. He says the responsibility for action lies on "all of us," though he is concerned about the country's ability to collectively break through years of barriers that have blocked strict gun laws.
Duncan grew up in Chicago, where his mother worked as an after-school tutor for low-income students. He studied at Harvard University, where he co-captained the basketball team before going pro in Australia. Duncan returned to Chicago just a few years later, eventually becoming CEO of Chicago Public Schools.
Being raised in Chicago, Duncan said Friday, visibly shaken and choking up, that gun violence "has haunted [him his] entire life," adding that he had mentors and good friends who died from gunshots.
"So this is not a new problem. This is something that I've battled with and tried to understand from the time I was a little boy, and I think it's time we do something about it," Duncan said. "I kept on my wall in Chicago a beautiful picture a young man wrote for me of him as a fireman. There's a caption on it. He wrote, 'If i grow up, I want to be a fireman.' 'If' I grow up, not 'when' I grow up. That's a really deep concept, Gwen, and we have far too many young people in our country today asking themselves 'if' I grow up, not 'when' I grow up.' Everything we try to do in education is to get children to think longterm… but if children are asking the question 'if I grow up,' that changes everything they do."
The Education Secretary now sits on a new gun violence task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden that was created last week by President Barack Obama to create proposals for tighter gun laws within the next month. In a speech Friday at a Washington elementary school, Duncan called for reasonable weapons restrictions and "limiting easy access to guns." In a video message to educators Tuesday, he also vowed to "do everything in our power" to keep schools as safe havens that serve to educate.
Duncan continued in the PBS interview to describe how hows own view on guns evolved from the crimes he saw against school children during his tenure as head of Chicago Public Schools. And though he warned that policy and government "will never be the entire solution," he saw lawmakers as those who can play a role in beginning to devise solutions.
"I do think the world has shifted -- everyone in this country feels vulnerable and wants something better for their own children," Duncan said. "I want our children to grow up in a community free of fear. We don't live in a third world country. There isn't World War I or World War II going on, and the fact that so many of our children are living in so much fear today is just absolutely unacceptable to me."
Watch the full PBS interview with Duncan in the video above.