Parkland, Florida

Last Wednesday, February 14th, 19-year old Nikolas Cruz walked into his old school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire. Cruz killed 12 people inside the high school, and 3 outside. One person was standing on a street corner just outside. Two more victims died in the hospital as a result of fatal gunshot wounds. In total, he took the lives of 17 innocent people. Cruz fled the scene amidst the chaos and was later apprehended in Coral Springs. He was formally charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder -- Cruz had entered the school heavily armed with firearms, a gas mask, and smoke grenades. Upon entering the building, he pulled the fire alarms to make students come out of their classrooms.

This marks the third United States mass shooting in four months. Teachers described Cruz as “quiet”, although he was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas at the time of the shooting. It has been said that he had a history of mental illness, and was accused of stalking a girl from school. School records show a history of fighting with classmates, and his social media accounts revealed disturbing text and images. Despite all these red flags, Cruz was still able to obtain a deadly weapon. Only a handful of states currently have “red flag laws” that allow law enforcement or family members to strip gun rights from those who appear to be violent or mentally unfit.

Current Florida law allows the court and law enforcement to ban the purchase of a firearm if the person is found to be “mentally defective”—unable to manage their own affairs, unable to stand trial, a danger to themself or others, or if that person has been acquitted of a crime due to insanity or mental illness. When a background check is performed, that information would appear and mark the record. However, background checks are not performed on all gun sales in the state of Florida. Private sellers are not required to perform any kind of background check. The gun Cruz used, a semi-automatic AR-15, can be categorized under rifles or pistols and easily bought by anyone over the age of 18. There are no specific laws in Florida regarding assault weapons or magazine size.

The ever-present question after a mass shooting is: why did we not catch this? Why were the red flags ignored? Cruz had a history of disturbing posts on social media sites—it was said that he posted photos of slain animals, guns, and other violent images. A Florida social services agency was called to investigate Cruz at his home after being alerted to some of these violent posts. After the visit, they determined that Cruz was not a danger to himself or anyone else. The FBI had also received tips regarding Cruz as recently as January. An anonymous caller reached out to a FBI hotline and identified Cruz as someone who may be at risk of harming or killing people. When Cruz attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas, there was an incident where he had to be sanctioned for emergency counseling.

Despite this history of mental illness and instability, violence and hostility, Cruz successfully bought a semi-automatic weapon and took 17 lives last week. In the wake of this tragedy, Florida students have bonded together to seek an overhaul of existing gun laws. Perhaps we have much to learn from other countries that do not experience mass shootings on a regular basis.

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