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March 23, 2009

“I want to look in the eyes of our children and promise them that they will be safe.”

A new article from the April 2009 edition of the National Rifle Association’s flagship magazine, America’s First Freedom, demonstrates the gun lobby group’s unerring capacity to smear anyone who stands in their way, no matter how sensible and well-intentioned their views. The piece, entitled “Arne Duncan: Education at the Extremez,” is a scathing attack on the new Secretary of Education, whom author David Kopel describes as “the most extreme anti-gun member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.”

What did Arne Duncan do to make the NRA so steamed? For starters, he was selected to receive a 2008 “Abraham Lincoln Award” from the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV), a group that “advocates for policies designed to minimize the impact gun violence has on Illinois residents.” The award honors “individuals who have shown great political and personal courage in the fight to reduce gun violence …. [The award is] named for an Illinoisan who had the courage and conviction to work for change in our society. Abraham Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents, but tragically was a victim of gun violence.” Past ICHV Lincoln Award honorees have included mayors, members of the Illinois legislature, members of the U.S. Congress, and a U.S. President.

ICHV was recognizing Duncan, then the Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, as “a longstanding proponent of reducing gun violence,” and as a public servant who “work[ed] within the Chicago school system to help make schools and communities safer for students and their families.”

Duncan’s second sin, in the NRA’s eyes, was to state that it is an “undeniable fact that guns and kids don’t mix” at the ICHV Awards Ceremony that year. One would think that is simple common sense, but the NRA quickly portrayed the statement as “an attack on the Scholastic Clays Target Program, gun clubs with small-bore shooting teams for teenagers, and parents who take their children hunting.”

Duncan likely had a different type of hunting on his mind—during the 2007-08 school year, a record 34 Chicago Public School students were killed, the overwhelming majority with firearms. It was for this reason that Duncan refused to accept ICAHV’s Lincoln Award that evening, saying:

"I wish we could stand here today and declare victory over gun violence ... I want to look in the eyes of our children and promise them that they will be safe—and that their only concern is whether they did their homework, not whether they can walk to school. I wish we could preserve their innocence long enough to foster a love of learning instead of a fear of death. I wish that our society valued children more than it values violent rituals and traditions that might have been at home in a frontier society two centuries ago but make absolutely no sense today. I wish for all of these things—but none of them are yet true ... And so, while I am deeply honored to be here...I cannot accept your award. I don’t feel I have earned it. I don’t feel any of us have earned it. Instead I would ask us all to remember the horror and tragedy of children who live with death every day. I would ask us all to renew our commitment to reducing gun violence.”

While Duncan spoke that night about youth who had recently been killed in Chicago, the problem is certainly not limited to the state of Illinois. The NRA is apparently unaware of—or simply doesn’t care about—a series of gruesome shootings involving children that have occurred in the five months since Duncan attended the ICHV awards ceremony, including the following incidents:

11-Year-Old Boy Kills Future Stepmother, Brother
Ohio Teen Convicted of Killing Mom Over Video Game
Angry Ohio Boy, 4, Shoots Baby Sitter
Brother Shot Girl in the Chest
12-year-old Arizona Boy Guilty in Mom’s Shooting
Boy, 8, Shot to Death in Massachusetts Gun Show Accident
Boy, 8, Admits Shooting Dad, Neighbor in Video
Father's Gunshot Kills Boy, 12
10 Year Old Killed, Brother and Father Charged
Real Gun Mistaken for a Toy; Girl Shoots Brother

In the America’s First Freedom article, author Kopel also expresses outrage that Duncan spoke at a protest outside Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale, Illinois, on May 26, 2007. For those not familiar with Chuck’s Gun Shop, it is the leading supplier of firearms to criminals among all federally licensed gun dealers in America. From 1996-2000, 2,370 guns were traced from crime scenes to the store (to put that in perspective, only five other dealers in the entire country had more than 1,000 guns traced to crime during this period). Chuck’s sits in a suburb directly outside Chicago. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has confirmed that most of Chicago’s crime guns come from dealers in-state (“We are our own worst enemies as a dealer state,” said ATF agent Thomas Ahern of the Chicago Field Division). Criminals go outside Chicago to make purchases because the city’s gun laws have made it virtually impossible for them to get firearms there.

Interestingly, Kopel spends almost half the article commenting on an inappropriate and ill-advised remark that Chicago Pastor Michael Pfleger made at the protest, in a weak attempt to guilt Duncan by association. He curiously fails to identify others who spoke that day, like Annette Holt, the mother of a 16-year-old who was shot and killed on a Chicago Transit Authority bus days before the event as he heroically tried to save another patron. Perhaps a grieving mother like Holt, whose organization Purpose Over Pain supports a wide range of state and federal gun control measures, simply isn’t as convenient a target.

And the NRA might have another motive in defending Chuck’s Gun Shop. In 2006, the store won the NRA’s Dealer Recruiter of the Year Award for getting the most patrons to join the organization.

Americans like Arne Duncan who care deeply about the disproportionate toll that gun violence is taking on children in this country and want to do something about it? The only place they’re “extreme” is in the eyes of the National Rifle Association.


  1. I notice you only printed a few select lines from the NRA article. Perhaps you were hoping no one would bother to read it.

    Here is a key statement you neglected to mention:

    Duncan: "This is a public health epidemic. We are struggling to find a cure for cancer. We are struggling to find a cure for AIDS. We know the cure for this public health epidemic--getting rid of guns."

    Notice he didn't refer to any specific type of gun, just "guns", meaning all firearms. I think most people, including those who do not own guns, would find that extreme.

    His statement that "kids and guns don't mix" is also something many would consider extreme, as it makes no exception for allowing kids to participate in hunting or target shooting activities under the supervision of a firearms instructor and/or adult relative.

    Finally, as far as I know, John Riggio and the employees at his store have not been arrested or charged with any firearms related crime or violation by the ATF or local law enforcement. I guess your respect for our system of "innocent until proven guilty" is not any higher then your respect for the second amendment.

  2. Thanks for your comment, thestaplegunkid9. The comment from Arne Duncan you provided was made when he was Superintendent of Chicago's Public Schools and was made in reference to 34 CPS students that were killed during the 2006-07 school year. The guns used in these shootings, in almost all cases, were illegal guns. We are not aware of any Chicago official at the time who was against getting rid of illegal guns in the city. We doubt many Americans would find Mr. Duncan's concern for the welfare of children being shot and killed in his city to be "extreme." Nor would any sane individual have advocated for arming more children as a solution to the problem.

    As for hunting and target shooting, nowhere in either the remarks you cited or Mr. Duncan's speech before the ICHV did he advocate restricting such activities. His focus in these remarks was on the public schools students being lost to gun homicide in his city.

    Regarding Mr. Riggio, what we do know from the data is that he is arming more criminals than any gun dealer in America. That means that he is consistently selling firearms to straw purchasers and traffickers who supply criminals. Whether or not the ATF can prove "willful" violations of the law by Mr. Riggio (an elevated standard of proof established by the NRA-drafted "Firearm Owners Protection Act" of 1986) for making these sales is a different question. In any case, we certainly understand why Chicago residents would be concerned about Mr. Riggio's sales practices. - CSGV