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Challenges remain a year after school massacre

School Shooting Florida-1

Emma Rothenberg, with her mother Cheryl Rothenberg and sister, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Sophia Rothenberg, from left, embrace at a memorial marking the one-year anniversary of a mass shooting at the school in Parkland, Fla., on Thursday.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Florida has been forever changed by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. In the 12 months since 17 people were killed by a troubled former student firing a semi-automatic assault rifle, there have been modest new gun controls, enhanced security at schools and an increase in civic activism by young people. The challenge is to remain focused on meaningful changes to make our schools and communities safer — and for people of all ages to remain involved in the discussion.

To their credit, then-Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature reacted with remarkable speed following the shooting. Within three weeks, a new law raised the age to buy all guns from 18 to 21, applied the three-day waiting period for buying handguns to rifles and outlawed bump stocks that have been used in other mass shootings and enable guns to fire more rapidly. Florida became one of a handful of states to establish a red flag law that enables law enforcement to seek a court order to take guns away from people who are a threat to themselves or others. Schools are being hardened, and at least one armed guard is required now at every school.

Yet there is much more to be done. A state commission chaired by Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri recommends increasing spending on mental health, requiring “hard corners” in every classroom where students and teachers cannot be seen by shooters in hallways or outside and locked door policies. Many of the commission’s prudent proposals, including a review of campus hardening efforts and standardized school security assessments, are included in legislation passed Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee. In the meantime, many school districts have to step up their efforts to comply with the requirement that every school have behavioral threat assessment teams to identify students showing concerning behavior.

If the Florida Legislature was less beholden to the National Rifle Association, it would take more aggressive measures. It would expand the red flag law to empower family members, not just law enforcement officers, to ask a judge to take firearms away from someone who is a danger to themselves or others. It would close the so-called gun show loophole so every gun sale would require a background check. It would ban semi-automatic weapons like those used at Stoneman Douglas and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Of course, that is not likely to happen in Tallahassee until voters send more gun-control advocates to the Legislature.

What really shouldn’t happen is allowing some classroom teachers to carry guns, no matter how well they are screened or how much training they receive. The commission chaired by Gualtieri supports that change, and so do Gov. Ron DeSantis and key Republican legislators. Gualtieri, who changed his thinking during the commission’s study, suggests at least one teacher could have shot and stopped the Stoneman Douglas shooter if he had been armed. But the commission also documented a series of systemic failures. The school district mishandled Nikolas Cruz’s issues over a long period. Campus monitors at Stoneman Douglas failed to sound the alarm when Cruz walked on campus carrying a rifle bag. And armed police officers failed to immediately enter the building after Cruz started shooting. More guns in schools is not the answer.

Ultimately, school safety is about money. The Florida Legislature should continue to invest in mental health services, better communications systems within schools and hardening campuses. If there is a compelling need for more armed security, the state should provide school districts with enough money to hire more police officers or licensed security guards with law enforcement backgrounds.

Tampa Bay Times


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