Arne Duncan: This gun issue has been one that has been the source of tremendous personal pain for me most of my life. I’ve talked about it extensively. It’s actually what I’m working full-time on now in Chicago. I’ve said very publicly that I thought my greatest failure when I ran Chicago Public Schools was the number of our students who died under my watch—who were killed. So, this is not a new issue, by any stretch. Sandy Hook—I talked about it, the president talked about it—that was the worst day for me in D.C. It was the worst day of President Obama’s presidency, and he dealt with the hardest issues on the planet, by definition. And you have these series of mass shootings, whether it’s churches or malls or movie theaters or baseball fields or schools. And I don’t know if we’re numb, or helpless, or feel hopeless, but any objective look at the data shows that it just doesn’t happen in other countries.
So, that’s a long way of saying: The fact that we can’t get that done in this country, it just—it breaks my heart. I’m angry. I’m infuriated.
Harris: How likely is it that a massive boycott would actually happen?
Duncan: The short answer is: We’ll see. We put this out a few days ago, and it was definitely intended to be thought-provoking. And you think about, you know, not all schools, but many schools, come back to school after Labor Day, that first week of September. That would give us a little time to see whether it makes sense. But there is clearly, as of now, very significant interest.
And, you know, teachers have walked out for higher pay, kids have walked out on the gun-violence issue, and my question is: What have we as parents done? We’re not protecting our kids. And, again, that’s the most fundamental thing. You want your kids to be safe. That’s instinctual. And the fact that we’re not doing that—we’re not willing to think radically enough to do it—I can’t stomach that.
So, the thought was, let’s see if it develops, let’s see if it continues to pick up momentum. But if you could do something in September, you’d see whether politicians move or not. If they move, fantastic. If they don’t move, then you’re looking at the November elections. Then you act.
Harris: You’ve worked with a lot of these politicians you’re talking about. Do you think that this is something that would push them to action?
Duncan: Clearly everything that we have done to this point has failed. We have failed to move them. So, this is definitely a radical idea, but I think I can make a pretty compelling case that we have to think radically to get them to do something different. I also think that many politicians—not all, but many—just act out of self-interest. And I know that many on the Republican side think they’re losing a whole generation of young people. And young people, they’re sick and tired. They’re not going to walk away from it. So, if for nothing other than self-interest, there’s an opportunity here.