On Valentine’s Day in Parkland, FL, a troubled 19-year old took an Uber to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire with an assault rifle, murdering 17 people. This came two weeks after a 15-year old killed two classmates at Marshall County High School in Kentucky.
The shooting took place shortly after 2PM, as Nikolas Cruz, a former student who was expelled for disciplinary reasons, entered with an AR-15 rifle and countless magazines, causing panicked students to hide inside classrooms and closets – as others raced for the exits.
Cruz was known to be a troubled student who was bullied and came from a broken home. The school had dealt with his behavior problems before, including threats against students. He was known to possess guns, and in the aftermath of the shooting it was discovered Cruz posted prophetic statements on social media of threatened violence, including pictures of him posing with his firearms.
Cruz utilized a tactical maneuver of setting off the fire alarm at the school to force students out of their classrooms, where they could more easily be targeted – a technique copied from previous school shootings. Chaos erupted in the hallways as the unexpected deafening echo of semi-automatic gunfire interrupted what appeared to be a routine fire alarm drill.
Life and death was randomly swapped, as resourceful teachers crammed frightened students into barricaded classrooms to prevent the shooter from entering – while others answered the ultimate call of bravery, shielding children with their bodies from gunfire, trading their lives in the process.
In the end 17 were killed and more than 20 hurt in the six-minute attack. Similar to the recent Kentucky school shooting, the Florida suspect neglected to take his own life. Cruz escaped the scene by blending in with fleeing students. He was apprehended two miles from the scene in a residential area of Coral Springs at 3:41PM, after first stopping at a Subway restaurant inside a Walmart, where he purchased a drink, and then sat for a while at a nearby McDonald’s.
What we have learned in the weeks after this tragedy is it was preventable. The Broward County Sheriff acknowledged some two dozen calls were received about Cruz. Public records indicate at least 45 calls were made in reference to Cruz, his brother or the family’s home between 2008 to 2017. Anonymous tips reported Cruz threatened to shoot up the school, that he collected knives and guns, and that he might be a “school shooter in the making.” A peer counselor notified school administrators that Cruz attempted suicide and indicated he intended to buy a gun.
The FBI Tip Line got a call in January from a concerned citizen close to Cruz detailing his erratic behavior, gun ownership, expressed desire to kill people, disturbing social media posts, and warned about a potential to perpetrate a school shooting. This information was not forwarded to the FBI’s Miami Field Office.
There is plenty of blame to share between the school, social services, FBI and the sheriff’s office. It seems everyone had Cruz on their radars but no one connected the dots.
We all as a society own some of the blame here, as collectively we have acquiesced in allowing government to restrict funding and access to mental health for Americans. To save cash on care, as a country America has shrugged off the issue of closing mental health hospitals to instead push those that previously would qualify for treatment to be dealt with through law enforcement. The problem, like in Parkland, is there are consequences for not acting fast enough.
In President Trump’s statement after the shooting he refused to even use the word “gun,” and instead attempted to refocus the debate away from guns as a problem and dump all the responsibility on a breakdown in mental health.
No doubt there is a mental health angle to the gun problem, but Republicans are being disingenuous in trying to make this the sole issue while neglecting the unchecked access to assault weapons.
If Trump and the Republicans care so much about mental health as a cure to America’s gun violence, then why did the president slash Medicaid spending by more than 22 percent? Medicaid funds a quarter of all mental health care in America. The only logical conclusion is Trump and his Republican cronies don’t care, and recognize that mental health isn’t the true cause behind America’s gun epidemic.
Amid this tragedy some beauty has grown with the advent of young people entering the social and political debate over school safety and gun control. The voices from survivors of Parkland have traversed the globe, and students far and wide have answered the call to challenge the status quo of disdainful politicians.
Adolescents and young adults are speaking with great authenticity and commitment about school shootings not being tolerated, and the immediate implementation of sensible gun control measures. From the soiled hallways at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Never Again MSD was organized, a student-led gun control advocacy group. They along with kids and adults across the nation have seized the gun control narrative away from complacent politicians by taking to social media and to the streets with a personal message of #NeverAgain.
Common sense gun control is not difficult. People have a constitutional right to bear arms, but there is every reason to background check every purchase of a firearm. Guns are deadly weapons and people have failed to behave responsibly with their storage, sale and use. Bump stocks and large-capacity magazines need to be outlawed, as promised after last year’s Las Vegas massacre, and the age limit on the purchase of rifles needs to be raised from 18 to 21.
Cruz had some 50-plus complaints and warnings submitted about him, yet this disturbed kid was allowed to lawfully buy a weapon of mass destruction. There is no legitimate reason the general public needs access to military-grade assault-style weapons. A shotgun, handgun or hunting rifle, sure. An AR-15, no way. But trying to once again pass an assault weapons ban would be a long uphill fight.
Blame for all of this lies squarely at the feet of the National Rifle Association and the current breed of spineless Republican politicians, who are bought and paid for by this militant gun lobby that are made rich from representing gun manufacturers.
I do not understand where the courage and leadership has gone from the Republican Party. They are willing to trade America’s children, school safety, terror incidents and patriotism for loyalty to the NRA, and in return their campaign coffers get filled with tainted special interest contributions.
I know Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is fighting for his life, but we sure could use him back in Washington about now. The rest of his caucus, Trump, McConnell and Ryan included, are cowards. They shiver in a dark corner as the NRA admonishes them to “DO NOTHING!”
All this death over the fear of the NRA giving a candidate a failing grade or running advertisements against them in their districts. This isn’t about the right to bear arms. This is about gun manufacturers. Their stocks go up with the death of our children.
Adults have had their chance to fix this problem and for selfish reasons refused. This time the kids in Parkland called “bullshit.” They don’t want to hear platitudes about federal, state and local officials willing to work together. Save the ribbons, memorials and moments of silence. With a consolidated voice the #NeverAgain crowd says, fix it, NOW, or pay the price come election day.