Thursday, February 15, 2018

From Littleton to Parkland, lots of hand wringing... [Updated]

I've been closely following the wave of school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida since my days as a member of Pres. Clinton's Advisory Commission on Youth Violence, following the 1999 mass shootings at Columbine H.S. in Littleton, Colorado.

The Parkland shooting is reportedly, the 208th since Columbine. An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since then.

The similarities between Littleton and Parkland are striking. Both mass school shootings took place in large high schools. Columbine had 2,000 students. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, 3,000.

I'm in no way blaming the school size or the educators inside the buildings, many of whom acted heroically and saved many lives during the assaults. Just noting that large high schools have a high degree of anonymity. That is, students are rarely known well by adults in the building, unless they are super-high achievers or "trouble makers". The result is, on average, large high schools have nearly ten times the violent incidents as smaller ones.

Whether it was shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine or Nikolas Cruz at Parkland, their fellow students were more aware of their potentially dangerous environs and threats of violence within their schools than were school administrators. In both cases and in the many cases in between, school leaders may have missed opportunities to intervene before the fact.

Pres. Trump wasted no time in blaming the Douglas students themselves for the killings. Trump has been in bed with the NRA in opposing any and all gun legislation and it is unclear what if anything he or law enforcement officials would or could have done, even if fellow students and neighbors of Cruz would have reported him to officials or if the FBI had followed up on the many tips they are reported to have received. Everything Cruz did, up until the time of the shootings, was perfectly legal.

In this case, some Parkland school officials were aware of Cruz's violence issues. They even expelled him from Douglas after a fight he had with a fellow student. But this didn't raise any flags when Cruz walked into a local gun shop and bought an assault rifle. By law, it couldn't.

The shooters at both Columbine and Stoneman Douglas were reported to have contacts with neo-fascist or white supremacist groups. Klebold and Harris were white supremacists who carried out their horrific act intentionally on Hitler's birthday. Following the Parkland shootings, a local white supremacist group Republic of Florida (ROF) claimed to have ties to Cruz.

In both cases, the shooters had serious mental problems, mainly severe depression. Klebold and Harris were each heavily medicated and had suicidal tendencies.  After the Columbine massacre, a team of psychiatrists and psychologists determined they were psychopaths, in touch with reality but filled with hate and bent on mass devastation that would outdo even that caused by the Oklahoma City bomber(s).

In a society where guns and bomb weren't so readily available, the pair's names may have ended up on a list of patients receiving treatment for their mental problems, rather than on a list of mass murderers.

We don't know enough about Cruz's mental condition yet. He reportedly also suffered from depression. The point here is not about people suffering from mental illness. But rather, the conditions that enabled them to caused such horrific destruction.

In both cases, the shooters had easy access to guns (including semi-automatic weapons) despite their troubled histories. Thank gutless politicians, often the beneficiaries of huge donations from the NRA, who are afraid to pass reasonable gun control legislation, for that.

News of the Parkland shootings, which left 17 students dead, was met with prayers and lots of hand-ringing by Florida politicians like Sen. Rubio and Gov. Scott, each of whom received A+ ratings from the NRA. Rubio has received more than $3million in NRA campaign donations.

Gov. Scott signed 5 Pro-gun bills in 2014 making Nicolas Cruz fully able to purchase a gas mask, smoke grenade and an AK-47 with extra magazines. All while under the age of 21 and still in high school. He was too young to by beer but old enough to purchase an assault weapon.

In the rest of the world, there have been 18 school shootings in the last twenty years. In the U.S., there have been 18 school shootings since January 1--35 days.

Marco Rubio and Rick Scott—both of whom carry A+ ratings and endorsements from the N.R.A—leaned on similar, though less elegant talking points. 
 “I think it’s important to know all of [the facts] before you jump to conclusions that there’s some law we could have passed that could have prevented it,” Rubio said in an interview with Fox News in the shooting’s aftermath. He added that lawmakers “can always have that debate, but . . . you should know the facts of that incident before you run out and prescribe [legislation].” 
Over the course of his career, Rubio has received $3.3 million from the N.R.A. Scott has also bucked calls for gun control. After the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, the Florida governor infamously declared, “Let’s remember, the Second Amendment has been around for over 200 years. . . . That’s not what killed innocent people; evil killed innocent people.”

While they happened nearly two decades apart, the school shootings at Littleton and Parkland and the hundreds of others in between offer valuable lessons for creating safer schools for our children. Unfortunately, we still have a system where the NRA and other big corporate campaign donors rule congress. Until that changes radically, our children will continue to be at risk in their classrooms and on the streets.

Look for more "prayers and thoughts" coming from the politicians, but no action. Nothing from them, that is, unless Parkland turns out to be the straw that breaks the camel's back and mass protests forces some change.

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