Jun 13, 2018, 4:09 PM ET

Lawmaker questions whether NRA influenced Trump's school safety commission


President Donald Trump’s Federal Commission on School Safety, headed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is facing questions from at least one lawmaker over whether the National Rifle Association influenced the commission's work to confront how to adequately protect schools from violence and mass shootings.

Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in a letter to DeVos Monday, expressed her concerns about the commission’s "failure to act" and asked whether the NRA had influenced the process.

"I expressed concern that the Commission would be used to shift the national conversation about our gun violence epidemic away from meaningful gun safety reforms, which the vast majority of people across the country support," she wrote.

"I also expressed concern that in our private meeting, you could not assure me that the National Rifle Association (NRA) would not influence the Commission's process," Murray added.

Murray, D-Wash., wrote that she has yet to receive a response to a previous letter sent in March expressing the same sentiments.

PHOTO: Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Sen. Patty Murray listens to testimony during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Nov. 15, 2017, in Washington.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Sen. Patty Murray listens to testimony during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Nov. 15, 2017, in Washington.

The Department of Education spokesperson Liz Hill says the NRA is "absolutely not" involved in setting the scope of the commission's work.

DeVos has not met with the NRA to discuss the commission, and the gun lobby "will have no say and no sway" in the commission's work, she said.

ABC News has reached out to the NRA for comment.

When Trump initially launched the task force on school safety in March to explore how to prevent school violence in the wake of the Parkland massacre in February, the White House's statement announcing the commission's concentrations touted that the commission will study and make recommendations on "age restrictions for certain firearm purchases."

PHOTO: People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that killed and injured multiple people on Feb. 14, 2018, in Parkland, Fla.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that killed and injured multiple people on Feb. 14, 2018, in Parkland, Fla.

Last week, DeVos told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the school safety commission will not look at changing gun laws in their mission to make schools safer.

Murray was among the lawmakers present during the hearing.

"That is not part of the commission’s charge per se," DeVos said at a hearing on education funding.

"So you're studying gun violence, but not considering the roles of guns," Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont questioned.

"We're actually studying school safety and we can ensure our students are safe at school," the secretary replied.

Hill maintained Wednesday that the commission will "look at all issues the president asked the committee to study" amid repeated instances of school violence involving deadly weapons, including "age restrictions for certain firearm purchases."

But she shifted the responsibility of amending gun laws on the shoulders of lawmakers.

"If Senator Murray wants to change gun laws in this country, she should look to her own body, since Congress makes laws, not the commission," she told ABC News. "Senator Murray’s grandstanding does nothing to keep our nation’s students safe at school, while the federal commission on school safety is hard at work on behalf of our nations students and educators."

In the wake of the Newtown massacre, the Obama Administration formed a task force to examine how to protect children from mass shootings in schools. Their report did address the role of guns, recommending banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and closing background check loopholes.

The often controversial education secretary set off a stir for this testimony before members of Congress.

"What we heard yesterday only confirms what we already knew: The Trump administration is far more concerned with securing NRA support than addressing the root causes of gun violence — namely, our lax gun laws," said John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety.

The commission consists of four cabinet secretaries: DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. This group of administration officials, she said, is taking their cues from the White House, and remain "focused on making recommendations that the agencies, states, and local communities can implement."

DeVos has promised to issue a report from the school safety commission by "year's end."

News - Lawmaker questions whether NRA influenced Trump's school safety commission

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  • Wyogirl

    This "commission" is a total joke. NONE of these people are educators. What could they possibly know about keeping schools safe? Have any of them ever been teachers, administrators, educators of any kind? No. It continues to be incredibly insulting to educators, kids and parents that a person as completely unqualified as Betsy DeVos was named and is still serving as the education secretary. Pay to Play at its finest.

  • Demon Kojure

    Betsy DeVos assured concerned parents that her commission will study the urgent problem of banana peels being dropped on school staircases. "It's a matter of public safety," she steadfastly asserted when asked what she planned to do about the recent exponential rise in fatalities from stairwell plunges.

  • jimewins

    Under the Constitution, the Fed Gov doesn't need a ED Sec....do away with the agency, she will follow.

  • rontron

    Senator Murray who brought this up apparently doesn't have a solution either. Neither did the previous administration. Congress will continue to kick the can down the road.

  • YouMayBanMeButYouCan'tBanIdeas

    What about the "potential grizzles" in our children's classrooms? Was this problem ever addressed?

  • BannedSimplyForPosting234

    So, basically, since a gun ban is not on the table, democrats are upset.

  • Mick Tripodo

    Could she sound more desperate and pandering? The evil NRA, oh noes!!! Dumbest letter ever sent, no wonder it was ignored..

  • Ctrygrl

    Good place for it the head of it is certainly a germ

  • Nala

    and devos REFUSES to include guns in the study which is the MAJOR reason!

  • Discrimination is not a right.

    They're keeping it on the down low.

  • Fatesrider

    Personally, I think allowing a totally unqualified, wealthy socialite to take over as education secretary was a bigger issue. It's going to leave an indelible mark on the education of students for the next decade, and put millions of those who went to college even deeper into debt.

    But, then, that's what the manipulative wealthy want: A stupid, badly educated public to further manipulate.

    Why they want them armed is kind of hard to fathom, though. Armed idiots are a growing problem in the country - so much so that the AMA has declared the lack of gun control to be a "public health crisis". Since they're seeing the tens of thousands of Americans wounded every year in emergencies, I think they have a good handle on the problem.

    The question is, when will we repeal the second amendment, or have the SCOTUS finally and explicitly define that scope?

  • BooBoo65

    What! Civil rights organizations influencing us? We can have none of that!

  • rightened

    2016: "Drain the swamp!"
    2017: "Put the new swamp over here!"
    2018: "Leave our swamp alone!"

  • rjm2238

    The NRA ought to definitely have some influence. Being as they have more than five million members and no doubt many times more sympathisors their views ought to be included as they represent a very large segment of the population.
    What if the Republican members demanded that anyone with ties to AARP be banned from the discussion and indignantly add that their views have no place at the table and make no mistake that is what these leftists are trying to infer about the NRA and it's millions of members.
    Rich in New Mexico.

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    The NRA is just a gun safety organization formed to educate Americans on safe gun ownership. I can't imagine them using their member's dues to influence elections and decisions by govt groups such as the education commission. They didn't interfere at all after the Parkland school shooting.

    Why I would think that interference in politics was something their members would frown upon. /s

  • Prophet With Honor

    Direct involvement no, indirect influence yes.

  • K. E. King

    The sister of a man who runs businesses advocating and utilizing mercenaries would naturally not wish to look at the role of guns in anything! She wants to the schools to be hardened into prison camps and hire her brothers armed guards for their prison, excuse me, "school." And of course, the "public schools" will have razor wire on top of the fences so they are more easily turned into prison camps in fact when she wipes out public education in fact and forces everyone into "private" religious schools. Pretty girls will wear red capes and bonnets before being turned over to the elite for their pleasure....

  • TexasVulcan

    I doubt the NRA is directly involved. But I would not doubt that "NRA-influenced" politicians have influenced the discussion.