WASHINGTON (AP) -- Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Thursday he is ashamed the United States is "becoming desensitized to the murder of children" and that action is needed now to prevent more lives from being lost in school shootings like the one in Uvalde, Texas.
Cardona spoke at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing two days after a gunman armed with an AR-15-style rifle stormed into an elementary school and killed 19 children and two teachers. The massacre, which followed the fatal of shootings of 10 people this month at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, has revived the debate over gun control.
On Thursday, the committee chairman, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., opened the hearing by holding a moment of silence in memory of those who had died in Texas.
While the hearing was on the Education Department's budget and priorities, Cardona started his testimony by addressing the shooting.
"After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Parkland, after each of these and other massacres, we as educators did our best to look parents in their eyes and assure them that we'll do everything to protect their babies," Cardona said, referencing school shootings in Colorado, Connecticut and Florida.
But he said all the actions taken in response to those earlier school shootings -- including active shooter drills, online early detection tools and more secure building entrances and perimeters -- "are no match for what we're up against."
Providing no specifics, he said, "we need action now" to protect America's children. "Let's not normalize this," he said. "Let's use every ounce of influence that we have to get something done to help prevent this from happening again."
Cardona told lawmakers that he would be "failing you as secretary of education if I didn't tell you I was ashamed, I am, that we as a country are becoming desensitized to the murder of children. I'd be failing you as secretary of education if I didn't use this platform to say that students and teachers and school leaders are scared."
The Cabinet member did not go as far as his boss, President Joe Biden, who in an emotional address said Tuesday, "When in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?"
Biden previously had called for a ban on assault-style weapons, tougher federal background check requirements and laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental health problems.
The fight over guns has been split largely on party lines. Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a domestic terrorism bill that would have opened debate on gun safety.
Rather than regulate guns, some Republicans have proposed arming teachers to deter school shootings.
Cardona rejected that.
"And the solution of arming teachers, in my opinion, is further disrespect to a profession that's already beleaguered and not feeling the support of so many folks," he said.
Scott, in his opening remarks, called school shootings "too common of an occurrence" in America.
"We could have prevented a lot of these if elected leaders valued children and families more than guns," he said. "Instead, time and time again, Congress has failed to enact any sensible or widely supported proposals to respond to these tragedies and prevent another one from happening."
But Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the committee, cautioned against a quick rush to action.
"We must be thoughtful about how we discuss and handle school safety and mental health issues," Foxx said. "Federal changes should not be made in haste."