Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and prayers. Different day, different place and different victims. But it is the same heartbreaking tragedy that has become all too routine, and nothing will change until voters elect leaders who offer more than condolences and embrace reasonable gun controls.
Nikolas Jacob Cruz is charged with 17 counts of murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. Authorities say he arrived at his former school in an Uber shortly before school was to end Wednesday afternoon, carrying an AR-15 assault rifle and several magazines of ammunition. They say he had been expelled last year after a fight, has a history of mental issues and may have been reported to the FBI for posting online that he wanted "to be a professional school shooter.’’
Whether it is at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High or Columbine High or Sandy Hook Elementary, those who pull the trigger are ultimately responsible for the loss of all of those lives. Yet we all bear some responsibility as well. There have been at least seven school shootings just through Valentine’s Day in 2018, and there have been calls for meaningful gun controls after Columbine and Sandy Hook and every other mass shooting. But our elected leaders in Washington and Tallahassee have failed to act, and voters have failed to elect enough leaders willing to stand up to the National Rifle Association.
Gov. Rick Scott pledged Thursday that he will lead a conversation in Tallahassee next week about improving school safety and addressing mental health issues. That’s fine, although the idea of adding more armed guards and installing metal detectors at every public school is a chilling acknowledgement that we can’t stop the carnage. And remember there was an armed school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and that did not help. Increasing spending on mental health and improving the reporting of such issues in background checks before gun purchases also would be good. But authorities say Cruz bought his assault rifle legally.
Scott did not mention gun control. Neither did President Donald Trump. Or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Students who fled the high school in fear talked about gun control. So did U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democrats. But Americans who believe the Second Amendment is important but not absolute have grown accustomed to the Florida Legislature and Congress moving on after each mass shooting.
Of course, there is no reason why any ordinary American, much less a troubled teen, needs an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Or huge magazines that can carry so many bullets that can be fired so quickly. Or bump stocks, which enable a semiautomatic to mimic a fully automatic rifle and which many Americans had never heard of until the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The nation’s gun laws are being exploited to essentially create heavily armed combatants in our communities. And too many elected leaders look the other way.
So we’re back to platitudes and tweets and expressions of grief. The state has announced it will pay for funeral expenses, and families of victims of Wednesday’s shootings have been told not to worry about hospital bills. Flags are flying at half-staff. There will be conversations in Tallahassee about school safety and mental health — but not gun control. Washington will refocus on its stalemate over immigration and the president’s dysfunctional White House — but not gun control.
There were plenty of heroic efforts to save lives Wednesday at that high school. An assistant football coach who was killed while shielding students from the shooter. The janitor who directed students away from the gunfire. The journalism teacher who hustled nearly 20 kids into a closet. The parents who tried to keep their kids calm in texts and phone calls as they hid.
Where are the heroes in Washington and Tallahassee? Standing up to the NRA and enacting reasonable gun controls requires political resolve from elected leaders but not the courage so many school administrators, teachers, parents and kids showed in South Florida. It also requires the resolve of voters to insist on better.