At the outset, I would like to make it clear that I believe the Parkland School murders of 17 students and staff to be a tragedy and my sympathies are with the 17 victims, their families and friends and the Parkland community at large. You would be entitled to know what qualifications I have to give my opinion on this matter. I have a broad background here. I have worked in law enforcement in two states, I have an academic background which includes a BS degree in political science and a JD degree in law. I have worked as a prosecuting attorney and have taught legal studies courses at the undergraduate level. I have been exposed through specific coursework to hostage negotiation and to legal problems in the mental health field. I have a conservative view of most political questions.
The liberal left did not miss a beat in converting the incident into their favorite agenda, "Let's take all the guns and, while we are at it, down with the NRA"(National Rifle Association). But this time they seized upon a number of the Parkland students who were attractive and articulate to act as spokespersons for their new program to add a note of authenticity and innocence like Emma Gonzalez. The students who kept to the left's party line were provided with transportation assistance to Tallahassee to meet with Florida legislators and lots of TV time. David Hogg comes to mind. He is the one who, when the White House called to invite him to meet with a group of parents and students from Parkland and other schools who had experienced school shooting violence, he hung up on them - and later bragged about the incident on TV, of course. The White House was offering to create a forum for policymakers to include the President to listen to input from these students and parents to try to formulate policy initiatives to prevent future occurrences.
Other students from Parkland did not agree with David's point of view. Kyle Kushuv, for example, wanted to honor his fallen friends but did not approve of the tactics of taking the guns or blaming the NRA. Kyle did not initially get the media attention of his classmates. But he has attracted the attention of Guy Benson, writing for TownHall.com. Guy's article can be found here. He writes of a serious young man who speaks in a calm voice favoring the 2nd Amendment with other, reasoned opinions of how to help solve the problem. I, for one, am listening for a rational voice on this issue that will discuss the problems and offer solutions. Following Guy Benson's article, Kyle has received some media attention and has met with Governor Scott of Florida and local policymakers and has traveled to Washington (trip funded by his father) to meet with several national policymakers to include President Trump and Vice-President Pence.
Speaking of solving the problem, I would be remiss if I did not express my own opinions.
- Harden the target. The concept of a gun free zone is a liberal fantasy and an invitation to disaster. One way in and one way out with armed, uniformed security. Students should display a current, school-issued ID. The entire facility should undergo a risk assessment and determine the needs for perimeter fencing, traffic control and facility access. If the cost of weapon or explosive device detection technology is not justified by the risk then clear backpacks should be required. Most major office buildings, airports, courthouses are just a few examples of protected locations in our society. How can you justify failing to secure our greatest treasures - our children. Remember that an active shooter outside of the building is a threat - a shooter inside the building is a failure that will soon result in a tragedy.
- Permit relevant mental health problems to appear in the background check database for gun purchasers. This is tricky and must have due process safeguards. Most states have provisions for short-term civil detention in mental health cases. In Florida, the Baker Act (very inappropriately named, in my opinion) permits a judge, law enforcement officer or doctor to detain a person for up to 72 hours in a mental health facility if he appears to be mentally ill and because of that mental illness, he (or she) is a threat to himself or others. The 72 hour period is intended to permit a clinical examination by a mental health professional. There are several problems with this suggestion. Medical records are not public records so an exception to the non-disclosure rules will be necessary. A system to periodically review the case or upon request of the detainee should be provided to determine if the person is still a threat or if the background check database should have the information deleted. The Homeland Security No-Fly list should not be related to the background check database because persons have been placed on that list arbitrarily and without due process, Many members of Congress have learned that it is difficult to remove their names from the list when added to the list in error. There is an inherent problem with our legal system here. We are speaking of legal determinations to provide due process but the mental health providers who provide testimony to judges are not lawyers and do not necessarily speak with the certainty needed to achieve that goal. There are also concerns for certain of the psychotropic drugs that are being prescribed to young people in large numbers. I admit to being out of my field here, but there appear to be unanswered questions that medications whose side effects include suicidal thoughts may also contribute to thoughts of mass murder under the wrong circumstances particularly when patients may not take the medications as prescribed or may go off their meds without their doctor's knowledge.
- The response to the information available has to be tightened up. The local law enforcement agencies had plenty of contact with the alleged shooter in the Parkland case. A troubled youth who has lost his parents with a fascination with firearms is a situation which must be dealt with. It was not in this case. The FBI also dropped the ball. Two incidents were on the federal agency level. The first was not in Florida (in which Nikolas Cruz posted on a blog that he wanted to be a professional school shooter) This was not in Florida, so no connection was made. But the second was local and specific - and the FBI analyst failed to make the referral to the Miami Field Office. None of the law enforcement contacts with Nikolas Cruz seemed to reach the Criminal Justice or Juvenile Justice systems - so when he tried to purchase a firearm, there was nothing in the database to stop him. The Sheriff seems to have been complicit in this result. I have read only public news reports (not the most reliable sources), but I am appalled by what I read. The Sheriff had apparently signed an agreement with the Obama Justice Department to reduce crime by agreeing that most school contacts with law enforcement would be handled by the school - and therefore referrals to the criminal system were avoided. Crime stats decreased - but whose interests were served.
- Law enforcement participation in the planning and implementation of a risk assessment and emergency plan for the school is essential. Apparently, the video feeds in the school were not operating in real time - which was not known to law enforcement. A school resource officer was assigned to the school - but neither he nor the three deputies who responded to the emergency call entered the building where the emergency was occurring in time to assist, instead deciding to take up positions outside. An active shooter in a school is not a barricaded subject and the officers should have entered the building and engaged the shooter without delay. I shudder to think how many lives were lost without the effective interference in the situation. A policy of taking an outside position and waiting for some other response is a bit like waiting for the shooter to run out of bullets.
- I recommend limited arming and training of teachers or administrators who volunteer and have relevant experience (law enforcement or military - and a concealed weapon carry permit). If qualified persons are not available, the school district can recruit them. These teachers would be a backup in the event the security officers at the entrance fail to identify and engage the threat. Their participation in the program would be anonymous and their classrooms or offices would be scattered throughout the facility.
Florida has passed legislation in response to the Parkland incident. They are raising the age from 18 to 21 for the purchase of long guns (pistols were already at 21). Also providing a three day waiting period. I am not sure I approve of this. I can enter the military at 17 - why should I be prevented from buying a rifle. I have an inherent right to defend myself under the federal constitution. Bumpstocks are banned. Funding is provided in the bill to enhance school security to include training and arming school employees subject to local approval. I have not read the legislation but I understand it includes new mental health programs and creates a procedure for law enforcement to seize and temporarily hold firearms from the home of an unstable person in a domestic dispute subject to judicial review. The NRA has filed suit against the implementation of the Florida law.
You will observe that I have not included the banning of assault weapons, whatever they are. Nor have I condemned the NRA for many unspecified crimes against the nation. This will separate me from the David Hogg wing of the children's brigade. I do not recommend the banning of ownership or the confiscation of any style of weapon because I fail to see the relationship between the inanimate object used in the commission of a series of murders and the murders themselves. That is, the cause of the act of taking a life is the responsibility of the person who commits the crime. A significant number of people are violently killed in automobile incidents every year - but it would be extraordinary if David Hogg would stand on a street corner arguing for the end of production of all cars or of a specific model of cars. There are a stunning number of guns in the hands of criminals as well as in the hands of law-abiding citizens in this country. The removal of the guns from the hands of the law-abiding citizens would not diminish the guns available to the criminal by a statistically significant amount. Criminals will always get their guns. But it would drastically reduce my options and my ability to defend myself. The inherent right to defend myself and my family is a Constitutionally protected right, by the way.
In closing, I would recommend my readers listen to a 7+ minute presentation by Nicholas Freitas, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (and candidate for US Senate) on the subject of 2nd Amendment issues. click here
I would also note that several days ago, the Great Mills High School in Maryland was the site of another school shooting - with a slightly different result. School resource Officer Blaine Gaskill responded to the scene within a minute and engaged the shooter. The facts are not yet clear. A male student and a female student were shot and wounded. The shooter apparently fired simultaneously with the officer. It is not yet determined whether the shooter shot himself or whether the officer's shot was fatal. But it is clear that the officer's quick action localized the incident and prevented any further injuries. At a recent previous incident at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, an NRA Instructor, Stephen Willeford, was roused from his home by the commotion at the church. As soon as he saw what was occurring there, he armed himself, with an AR-15 rifle, by the way, and, shoeless and with the help of a passerby with a truck, pursued the shooter and shot him nearby.
Several additional articles are linked in my update comment below.