U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks at a Feb. 4, 2013, press conference organized by College Presidents for Gun Safety. Eastern Mennonite University President Loren Swartzendruber (partly visible in the center back row) is among 25 higher-education presidents at the event. Beside Duncan is Hunter Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities, former president of Cornell and the University of Iowa. (Photo by Tim Swartzendruber)

EMU President Swartzendruber Backs U.S. Education Secretary at D.C. Event for Gun Safety

Congress needs to be forced by Americans outside Washington, D.C., to take steps to curb gun violence, said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a Capitol Hill press conference on Feb. 4, 2013, where he shared the stage with Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University, and 25 other college presidents.

College Presidents for Gun Safety” ­– drawn together after the Sandy Hook school killings in December ­– organized the press conference, visits with Congressional officials, and an evening meal with Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

“It was an energizing and hopeful gathering,” said Swartzendruber about the day’s events.  He reported that the Education Secretary shook his hand at the close of the news conference and leaned in to offer this remark to one ear, “We can do this!” Swartzendruber said he felt heartened by Duncan’s words.

“I don’t know of a time when so many college and university presidents have spoken collectively, with one voice, on any issue of such public importance,” Oglethorpe University President Lawrence Schall said at the press conference. Schall hosted the event and was a co-author of the recent open letter on gun safety signed by hundreds of college presidents, including Swartzendruber.

The press conference featured speakers from the United States Student Association, International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, all of them calling for gun-reform legislation that will:

  • Require that every gun buyer pass a criminal background check
  • Get military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines off our streets
  • Make gun trafficking a federal crime.

“We are not making a statement about the second amendment nor do we oppose the legal use of guns for hunting purposes,” Swartzendruber said afterwards. “We are calling for common sense steps to make this country safer for all of us.”

The Capitol Hill visit on Feb. 4 included conversations with education policy advisors of both political parties. At the dinner sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Swartzendruber and other college leaders joined a representative sent by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is coordinating the work of the mayors’ association.

All of these events were planned in conjunction with the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, of which EMU is a member.