Valentine’s Day School Massacre in One of our “Safest Cities”
A Message from the President of Americans Against Gun Violence
On February 14, 2018, a 19 year-old former student armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle shot and killed 17 students and staff and wounded at least 14 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Parkland had been rated as one of Florida’s two safest cities, and the 15th safest city in the entire country.
In an interview on the PBS News Hour on the evening of the shooting, Ronald Stephens, Executive Director of the National School Safety Center, described the Broward County school district, which includes Parkland, as being on the “cutting edge” of preparedness to respond to a mass shooting. PBS News Anchor Judy Woodruff also interviewed Broward County Commissioner and past Parkland Mayor, Michael Udine. Mr. Udine’s daughter had been present at the high school when the shooting occurred, but she escaped without injury. Mr. Udine noted that there is a police officer routinely stationed at the school.
Ms. Woodruff concluded the interview with Mr. Udine by stating, “If someone is determined to get in, then there is very little to stop them, I guess.”
Mr. Udine replied, “Sadly, I guess so.”
So ended the coverage of the Valentine’s Day school mass shooting on the February 14, 2018 edition of the PBS News Hour. The February 15 edition of the News Hour included more interviews and coverage of inane speeches concerning the shooting by the President and members of Congress, but only one interviewee spoke of the need for definitive action to prevent such tragedies. A student, David Hogg, who had been present at the high school when the shooting occurred, said:
Condolences and saying we’re so sorry for your loss is obviously important, but what we need at this point is not to say that any more because there shouldn’t be any more people that die. We need to take action.
In additional news coverage on February 15, Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie confirmed that two police cars were typically at the high school campus on a daily basis. Nevertheless, the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, reportedly left the school unimpeded after committing the massacre and stopped to eat at a nearby fast food establishment. Cruz was not apprehended until an hour later in the nearby town of Coral Springs. He had been previously expelled from the high school for disciplinary problems, including threatening other students. He had also placed postings on social media concerning plans to “shoot people with my AR-15” and become “a professional school shooter.” The AR-15 rifle he used in the massacre had been purchased legally in Florida, where it’s easier to buy an assault rifle than a handgun.
The Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who has an A+ rating from the NRA, described the shooting as “pure evil.” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who also has an A+ rating from the NRA, responded to the shooting by stating that there needs to be better enforcement of existing laws, even though no existing law appears to have been broken up until the point that Nikolaz Cruz began gunning down former classmates and teachers. Donald Trump read a prepared speech in which he implied that the shooting was a result of “the difficult issue of mental health.” He included in his speech comments directed to “America’s children”:
I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.
His comments to “America’s children” had a familiar cadence. In a speech at the NRA national convention in April, 2017, Trump said:
You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you….That is why we are here today, to defend freedom for our children….And to the NRA, I can proudly say, I will never ever let you down.
Less than two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marshall County High School in Benton, Kentucky, I’d sent out a president’s message from Americans Against Gun Violence entitled, Sacrificing Our Children to the Gods of the Gun Lobby. Before posting the message, I’d asked my wife to read it and let me know if she thought it was too strongly worded. She said it wasn’t. I first learned of the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day when my wife took our car to run an errand and returned sobbing. She’d heard the news of the shooting on the radio. She said, “Your last message wasn’t strong enough.”
Words cannot express our outrage over the fact that we, as a nation, continue to allow innocent children to be slaughtered by guns while we pretend not to know why these massacres keep happening or what we can do to stop them. The obvious reasons for the occurrence of regular school shootings and the rest of the shameful epidemic of gun violence in our country are our lax gun control laws and what the late Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut described in 1968 as "the ridiculous ease" with which almost anyone in our country can get almost any kind of gun. And there's no mystery as to what we need to do to stop this shameful epidemic. As Senator Dodd also said in 1968, "The time has come that we must adopt stringent gun control legislation comparable to the legislation in force in virtually every civilized country in the world." Tragically, we have not enacted the kind of stringent gun control laws that Senator Dodd called for 50 years ago, and as a result, since 1968, more US civilians have died of gunshot wounds than all the US soldiers killed in all the wars in which our country has ever been involved.
In my message about Sacrificing Our Children to the Gods of the Gun Lobby, I cited a recent study showing that U.S. youth ages 15-19 are 82 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than youth in other high income democratic countries. The mass shooting on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School demonstrates that in a country in which youth are murdered by guns at a rate that is 82 times higher than the rate for youth in other high income democratic countries, even a school that is located in one of the “safest cities” in the country - and that is “on the cutting edge” of preparedness to respond to a mass shooting with at least one police officer present at all times - is not at all safe for our children.
We are not powerless to stop the shameful epidemic of gun violence in our country. If you are as outraged as my wife and I are about the ongoing sacrifice of our children to the gods of the gun lobby, please join us in contacting your elected leaders and telling them so. Let them know that you expect them to openly advocate and do everything within their power to enact the kinds of stringent gun control laws that have long been in place in every other high income democratic country of the world – countries in which high school age youth are 82 times less likely to be murdered with guns than youth in the United States of America.
And please become an official member of Americans Against Gun Violence, if you haven’t done so already, by going to the Join/Donate page of this website; and mention that you’re an Americans Against Gun Violence member when you contact your elected officials. At the time of my writing this message, Americans Against Gun Violence remains the only national gun violence prevention organization that openly advocates reducing rates of gun violence in the United States to levels comparable to the rates in other high income democratic countries through the adoption of comparably stringent gun control laws. When you join and donate to Americans Against Gun Violence, and when you make contacts with elected officials as a member of Americans Against Gun Violence, you are contributing to a multiplier effect that increases not only your own power to help stop the shameful epidemic of gun violence in our country, but also the power of the entire organization.
I continue to encounter doubters, including individuals in leadership positions in other gun violence prevention organizations, who claim that we’ll never be able to accomplish our goal of reducing rates of gun violence in the United States to levels comparable to the rates in the other high income democratic countries of the world. I’m confident that one day, we will accomplish that goal. The only question is how many more innocent people -including innocent children - will be killed by guns before that day arrives. Thanks for your help in making that day come sooner rather than later.
Bill Durston, MD
President, Americans Against Gun Violence
Note: Dr. Durston is a board certified emergency physician with over 35 years of practice experience. He is also a former expert marksman in the U.S. Marine Corps and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, decorated for courage under fire.