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Betsy DeVos and Democrats call for congressional hearings in wake of Florida school shooting

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a radio interview Thursday she wants Congress to hold hearings on school shootings. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Democratic members of Congress are calling on congressional leaders to hold hearings on school shootings following a massacre at a Florida high school that left 17 dead and scores more wounded Wednesday.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, allegedly carried out by a student who had been expelled, is the deadliest high school shooting in the nation’s history and marked another spate of violence at a time when gun violence in schools has become routine.

Like past school shootings, the Florida massacre inspired calls for more restrictions on firearms and the expansion of mental health services, especially because the accused gunman exhibited troubling behavior. But while past school shootings have shocked the nation’s conscience, none — not even the worst — moved Congress to pass legislation to attempt to address the issue.

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DeVos, in a radio interview Thursday morning with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, did not offer any policy prescriptions but said the latest shooting should spur “much more robust conversation around tracking and tackling mental health issues.”

“Congress needs to be holding hearings on these issues and we’ve seen lots of discussion on this every time we’ve had an incident,” DeVos said. “We need to have a conversation at the level where lawmakers can actually impact the future.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said she agreed “wholeheartedly” with DeVos’s suggestion, and urged her Republican colleagues to schedule a hearing.

“Families across the country are tired of waiting for Congress to step up, have the tough conversations, and adopt common sense gun safety and other policies to end this scourge in our schools and communities, so I am very glad that Secretary DeVos has requested congressional hearings on this issue,” Murray said.

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Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and his colleague Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), urged the committee’s Republican chair to schedule a hearing on the matter in a letter Thursday. The other Democrats on the committee backed the call for a hearing.

“Wednesday’s preventable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, resulted in the deaths of at least 17 students and faculty. Sadly, since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago, more than 430 people have been shot in over 230 school shootings,” they wrote in a letter to Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) “Despite the sobering reality, our committee has not had a hearing to address this public health epidemic since February of 2013.”