Five years after a mass shooting that shook Florida, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Parkland remain inextricably linked to the ghastly day when a troubled teenager in less than four minutes killed 14 students and three staff members, injured 17 more and traumatized an untold number of children and families.
But the Feb. 14, 2018, tragedy also sparked a national movement created and led by young people, spurred changes in state law aimed at making schools safer and led to new firearm restrictions in what had been dubbed the “Gunshine State.”
“It still feels like five minutes ago,” Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was among the victims, told The News Service of Florida in a phone interview Thursday.
In the weeks after the shooting, outrage escalated as it was revealed that gunman Nikolas Cruz, then 19, had a lengthy history of disturbing behavior that prompted at least two reports to the FBI identifying him as dangerous. He also had numerous contacts with mental-health providers and education officials. Cruz was able to legally purchase the AR-15 rifle he used to carry out the attack.
Students and victims’ families flooded the state Capitol, where the Legislature was meeting, and lawmakers quickly passed a measure addressing mental health, school safety and guns.
The law included barring sales of rifles and other long guns to people under age 21 and a “red-flag” provision allowing law enforcement officials to seek permission from judges to temporarily force people to turn over weapons if they are deemed threats to themselves or others.
The March For Our Lives organization, spearheaded by Parkland students, came out of the mass shooting. The group has held marches throughout the nation calling for stricter gun regulations.
As the five-year anniversary of the shooting approaches, David Hogg, one of the group’s founders, said he is reminded of “how far we’ve come but how far we have to go.”
“People said that you’re just a bunch of kids and you’re never going to pass anything in the Florida Legislature, and we did,” Hogg, 22, told the News Service in a phone interview Thursday.
The red-flag law, Hogg said, has thwarted an unknown number of violent incidents, including in his own family.
Hogg’s mother received a death threat that said, “F with the NRA and you’ll be DOA.” His family used the red-flag law, and the person who made the threat was forced to relinquish his firearms.
“The law that we passed in Florida may have stopped me from having to bury my own mother,” Hogg, in his final semester at Harvard University, said.
A self-described “pretty cynical person,” Hogg nevertheless said he has “some level of hope” because of his group’s accomplishments, including the passage of more than 100 gun laws in the country since 2018.
“We mobilized our generation in a way that really has frankly never been seen in terms of the electoral work that we’re doing,” he said.
The 2018 law, known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, also created a commission that probed the mass shooting and continues to make recommendations to bolster school safety.
“Five years. It feels like yesterday in some respects, and it feels like an eternity in others,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the commission, said during an interview with the Deeper Dive with Dara Kam, a podcast that will be released Sunday on the website of City & State Florida, a sister publication of the News Service.
The commission quickly discovered that “the schools were not prepared, underprepared and that school safety wasn’t a focus and a priority, which was amazing, given the fact that Columbine happened in 1989,” he added, referring to a school shooting in Colorado.
The state has “made a lot of progress” over the past five years, “but we’re not there,” according to Gualtieri. “And quite honestly, no, we’ll never be there and nobody should ever say we’re there because there is no finish line.”
Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, a Democrat who was the mayor of Parkland at the time of the shooting, told the News Service the tragedy affected her personally and professionally “because I knew many of these families beforehand.” She said she had to compartmentalize her reaction to the tragedy.
“For me, the number one priority was helping our community navigate through this in the best way possible,” she said. “I think it’s important for everybody to realize that while time moves on, trauma remains and the impacts of that trauma remain. We still have students who were at the school that day who are struggling. And we need to do more as a society to make sure traumatic events like this, everyday gun violence, other traumatizing things, don’t happen.”
Ryan Petty’s 14-year-old daughter, Alaina was among Cruz’s victims.
“For us as a family, there’s just a piece missing and we’ve had to try to grow or get comfortable with this part of our family that’s just not there, Alaina, and all the things we imagined that she would be doing, all the things we would be doing together as a family. I think we struggled in many senses to find joy in the things that we used to easily find joy in,” Petty, who also serves on the school-safety commission, said in a phone interview.
Petty said he’s grateful for changes state leaders have adopted since 2018.
“The acknowledgement that it can happen here is probably the biggest change. They say culture trumps everything, and we had a culture perhaps in many places in the state, certainly this was true in Parkland and in schools in Broward County, of, ‘That won’t happen here.’ And the mindset change that I see … is that there’s an acknowledgment that it could happen and so we need to be prepared,” he said.
The 2018 law and bills passed in the following years included requirements to harden school properties and classrooms against violence. As examples, classrooms must have “safe corners” and have doors that can lock, and school-safety officers must be deployed on every campus.
“There are a lot more things in place that will allow people to more appropriately respond and react. … You have to assume, and anybody that doesn’t operate from this premise is just flat-out wrong, is that you cannot prevent this. It is going to happen again. It’s a hard thing to say. People don’t want to hear it. But the reality is, it’s going to happen again,” Gualtieri said.
The impact of Cruz’s rampage continues to resonate.
State lawmakers this spring are prepared to do away with a requirement that jury recommendations for the death penalty be unanimous, after a jury did not sign off on a death sentence for Cruz. The confessed gunman was sentenced to life in prison in the deaths of Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque Aguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jaime Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup and Peter Wang.
Guttenberg said his family will mark Feb. 14 in the same way they have since 2018.
“We’re going to spend it privately and with Jaime at the cemetery. We don’t participate in the public events. … For us being with my daughter is where I belong,” said Guttenberg, who no longer lives in Parkland.
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida
It happens every weekend on the south side of Chicago and you, the MSN and everyone, including the so called BLM movement ignores it.
Hypocrites and racists make up the MSN (biased political hacks), BLM (organizers are a bunch of crook) .
Do a simple search on the MSNBC and Fox News site or on YouTube and you will see both report on Chicago shootings. And both are politically biased.
Tony Mack says
That didn’t take long — trotting out the old Republican talking point about Chicago. So, okay — let’s just look at some numbers from 2020: Source: https://wonder.cdc.gov
Illinois –1,745 gun deaths (That includes Chicago)
Florida — 3,041
North Carolina –1,699
Tennessee — 1,473
Georgia — 1,897
Those are just a few of the real numbers but yeah…Texas, the state of Freedom and open carry and just about any nitwit can carry a gun into a Starbucks or a Walmart…
Texas Firearm Deaths
There were more than 4,000 gun-related deaths in Texas in 2020.
In 2019, 61% of all Texas suicides were by firearm.
In 2019, nearly 73% of veteran suicides in Texas were by firearm according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 2020, 183 women in Texas were killed by a male intimate partner—67% of those murders were by firearm.
Women in Texas are 24% more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other states.
In 2019, at least 32 Texan children ages 0-17 died in unintentional shootings.
Cost –Gun violence in Texas costs $16.6 billion per year.
Illegal Export of Firearms
Forty-one percent of crime guns recovered in Mexico from 2009-2014 originated in Texas.
Despite being home to more than 4,000 gun deaths per year and mass shootings such as Sutherland Springs Church, El Paso Walmart, Midland-Odessa, and Santa Fe High School, Texas has actually made access to firearms easier. During the last legislative interim, the Governor refused to call a special legislative session to pass common-sense laws to address gun violence prevention, and then during the 87th session, he signed HB 1927 into law, removing the safety net of licensing and training to carry a handgun in the state. See the Texas Gun Sense legislative analysis reports for more information. (Source: Texas Gun Sense [email protected] )
So it would seem, despite the right-wing hatred for Chicago, it is not the hotbed of gun deaths as so related. It actually is Texas. Go figure! And naturally, when the facts are not on their side…there’s always BLM and the Main Street Media to fall back on as scapegoats.
And then there’s this:
Republican-controlled states have higher murder rates than Democratic ones: study
April 4, 2022·
Republican politicians routinely claim that cities run by Democrats have been experiencing crime waves caused by failed governance, but a new study shows murder rates are actually higher in states and cities controlled by Republicans.
“We’re seeing murders in our cities, all Democrat-run,” former President Donald Trump asserted at a March 26 rally in Georgia. “People are afraid to go out.”
In February, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., blamed Democrats for a 2018 law that reduced some federal prison sentences — even though it was signed by Trump after passing a GOP-controlled Congress. “It’s your party who voted in lockstep for the First Step Act that let thousands of violent felons on the street who have now committed innumerable violent crimes,” Cotton said during a speech in the Senate.
Last December, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, told Fox News viewers, “America’s most beautiful cities are indeed being ruined by liberal policies: There’s a direct line between death and decay and liberal policies.”
But a comparison of violent crime rates in jurisdictions controlled by Democrats and Republicans tells a very different story. In fact, a new study from the center-left think tank Third Way shows that states won by Trump in the 2020 election have higher murder rates than those carried by Joe Biden. The highest murder rates, the study found, are often in conservative, rural states.
The study found that murder rates in the 25 states Trump carried in 2020 are 40% higher overall than in the states Biden won. (The report used 2020 data because 2021 data is not yet fully available.) The five states with the highest per capita murder rate — Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama and Missouri — all lean Republican and voted for Trump.
Those findings are consistent with a pattern that has existed for decades, in which the South has had higher rates of violent crime than the nation as a whole.
“We as criminologists have known this for quite some time,” Jennifer Ortiz, a professor of criminology at Indiana University Southeast, told Yahoo News. “States like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have historically had high crime rates.”
Criminologists say research shows higher rates of violent crime are found in areas that have low average education levels, high rates of poverty and relatively modest access to government assistance. Those conditions characterize some portions of the American South.
“They are among the poorest states in our union,” Ortiz said of the Deep South. “They have among the highest rates of child poverty. They are among the least-educated states. They are among the states with the highest levels of substance abuse. All of those factors contribute to people engaging in criminal behavior.”
“I thought that was a very good study,” Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and former president of the American Society of Criminology, told Yahoo News about the Third Way report. “In Republican states, states with Republican governors, crime rates tend to be higher. I’m not certain that’s related to the fact that the governor is a Republican, but it’s a fact nonetheless.”
(While the Third Way study divided states by presidential vote in 2020, using gubernatorial party affiliation leads to similar results because most states have recently chosen the same party for governor and for president. Based on presidential vote, eight of the 10 states with the highest murder rates lean Republican, versus seven of the top 10 if one uses the governor’s party.)
Although murder rates tend to be highest in the South, the biggest increases in 2020 were found in the Great Plains and Midwest, according to Third Way. The largest jumps were in Wyoming (91.7% higher than in 2019), South Dakota (69%), Wisconsin (63.2%), Nebraska (59.1%) and Minnesota (58.1%). Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska all voted for Trump and have Republican governors. Wisconsin and Minnesota voted for Biden and are led by Democrats.
Few large cities are governed by Republicans — only 26 of the 100 largest U.S. cities have Republican mayors — making apples-to-apples comparisons difficult. But cities that do have Republican mayors do not have lower murder rates than similarly sized Democratic-led cities, the study found.
Murder rates in the U.S. rose dramatically in 2020 from record lows, and the increases are similar across states — regardless of partisan preference. For homicides in 2020, Third Way found a 32.2% uptick in Trump-backing states versus a 30.8% rise in those that voted for Biden. Some states with large cities, such as New York and Pennsylvania, saw larger-than-average increases: New York went up 47% and Pennsylvania is up 39%. But the largest increases were in rural, Republican-led states, including Montana (+84%) and South Dakota (+81%).
The higher national murder rate is naturally causing public concern, although violent crime does remain far below its early 1990s high point. “Using the FBI data, the violent crime rate fell 49% between 1993 and 2019,” from 757 incidents per 100,000 people to 379 per 100,000, the Pew Research Center noted last November. Between 2019 and 2020, the murder rate jumped from 6 homicides per 100,000 people to 7.8 homicides per 100,000, but that was still 22% below the rate in 1991 of 10 homicides per 100,000.
So yeah, go ahead — keep bringing up Chicago, BLM, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Mr. Scrooge and any other straw man you can find to vilify those Democrats you hate so much…
Tony Mack: Don’t forget those hoodlums Huey, Dewey and Louie. I know DeSantis won’t.
Hush and Let Adults Talk says
Schools are not shot up in Chicago. There is violence everywhere, in every city. Parkland was a school. This should not happen in schools. Shove your ignorance somewhere else. You didn’t grow up like this, fearing if today was the day you didn’t come home from school. Spare me. Gang violence and street violence happens in every corner, city, rural, white, black…this is about schools. Grow up.
Two weeks into February and there have been 71 mass killings in this country this new year. NRA is secure in their beliefs, and successful in their lobbying.