WASHINGTON -- People who say that teachers want to carry weapons are just pushing "a marketing opportunity," according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
"The vast majority of teachers have spoken pretty loudly and said they're not interested in being armed, so that's a red herring," Duncan said at a small Thursday morning meeting with reporters at the U.S. Education Department. "It's an opportunity to sell more guns, that's a marketing opportunity, it's not serious."
Duncan's remarks come after the National Rifle Association suggested, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. mass elementary school shooting, that armed teachers may be a solution to halting school violence. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's chief executive officer, said at the time. A gun advocate in Michigan suggested that armed teachers could have minimized the damage in Sandy Hook Elementary School.
But Duncan said it's not what teachers want. "Teachers have spoken loudly and clearly," he said. "I've talked to hundreds and hundreds of teachers. There are one or two out there but that's not where people are at." In fact, a National Education Association poll found that only 22 percent of its members favored a proposal to arm teachers and other school staffers; 68 percent opposed this idea, including 61 percent who indicated they strongly oppose it.
Duncan noted that Denver is moving away from armed guards in schools. "Schools have generally been the safest place that kids are," he said. "Building a culture in which students are safe, which are not these armed camps, is what the vast majority of teachers ... are looking for."
Duncan helped develop the White House's gun-control guidelines, which would include background checks for gun owners, a ban of high-capacity magazines and federal funds that would allow schools to hire either armed guards or social workers to keep their schools safe.
Duncan previously worked as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and often speaks of seeing horrific inner-city violence firsthand. When kids were provided with opportunities for after-school programming there, he said he saw they didn't want to join gangs. "They know they get shot at, they know they get locked up," he said. "People are looking for an alternative."
Since the Newtown tragedy, he has been speaking to victims of gun violence, including the parents of the kids who were murdered that day. "I have two young kids," he said. "As a parent, I don't know how they get up every day." On Wednesday evening, Duncan said he spoke to the Sandy Hook teacher who hid her students in a closet to save their lives.
"They challenged me to take action and we need to," he said. "They were generally very supportive of the kinds of things that we're supporting." On Thursday, Duncan plans to travel with Vice President Joe Biden to Connecticut to continue working on the White House's gun-control proposals.