Pulse Nightclub. June 12, 2016.
Orlando, Florida. Gunman kills 50.
Las Vegas. October 1, 2017.
Las Vegas, Nevada. Gunman kills 58.
Stoneman Douglas High School. February 14, 2018.
Parkland, Florida. Gunman kills 17.
Virginia Beach. May 31, 2019.
Virginia Beach, Virginia. Gunman kills 13.
This morning, I read about Scot Peterson being charged with eleven counts of criminal action, including child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury. Peterson was the school resource officer posted at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. That afternoon, a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people and non-fatally wounded 17 others.
“It’s never too late for accountability.” – Gregory Tony, Broward County Sheriff
In the shooting’s aftermath, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted a 14-month investigation, which concluded, “…former deputy Peterson did absolutely nothing to mitigate the MSD shooting that killed 17 children, teachers and staff and injured 17 others.”
Gregory Tony, the Broward County Sheriff asserted, “It’s never too late for accountability,” while adding Peterson had been formally terminated from the department.
A state commissioned report detailed the errors of police and Peterson during the active shooter situation. In its findings, the state recommended “voluntary arming of teachers,” while asserting Peterson could have prevented as many as six deaths, had he engaged the shooter.
The Issue of Inaction
Lawmakers and decision influencers across the nation have been quick to condemn the actions (or inaction) of officers who fail to engage or respond. For example, in the case of Scot Peterson, school board officials, parents, and the chairman of the MSD High School Public Safety Commission have endorsed criminal charges.
“Scot Peterson is a coward, a failure and a criminal…because he didn’t act, people were killed.” – Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Sheriff, Chairman of MSD Public Safety
Peterson faces a combined total of 100 years in prison. His bail was set at $102,000, and once/if released awaiting trial, he’ll be required to (1) wear a GPS monitor, (2) surrender his passport, and (3) surrender – and be barred from possessing – all firearms.
The real issue at play here however is the inaction of Congress and the President of the United States – the inaction of statewide lawmakers and governors. These leaders have presented alternatives (ex. posting armed guards on campuses of schools and churches) in place of their ability to stand firmly against the gun lobby (ex. National Rifle Association), and to pass comprehensive, common-sense reform.
On February 28, 2017, President Trump signed a bill revoking Obama-era regulations which made it more difficult for people with mental illnesses to purchase/obtain firearms. Those regulations were established in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which left 20 first-graders and six others dead.
Irony: After the Parkland shooting, Donald Trump tweeted:
“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” – Donald Trump, February 15, 2018.
The NRA and congressional republicans applauded Trump’s decision, contesting Obama’s attempt to register “people receiving Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs to the national background check database,” (NBC News) was an assault on the second amendment.
Advocacy for “arming teachers,” surged, as did hypothetical scenarios and cynicism toward regulations (ex. comprehensive background checks, enforcement of existing laws, waiting periods). You may have heard any number of these: “If I was there, I would have…” | “If the teachers were armed…” | “Having a gun is my second amendment right…” | “Gun reform won’t be effective…” | “If the criminal wants a gun, they’re going to find a gun...” | “You’re just making it harder for responsible owners to purchase guns…” | “Nobody’s taking my guns away…”
Hypothetical & Precedent
Repeated mass shootings are a failure on our part. We obviously aren’t being heard well enough by lawmakers – or Trump. This wave of “arm the teachers” sentiment sets up a situation to hold more people accountable in the future – more people like Scot Peterson. Today it’s the deputy and armed guard that was a “coward,” a “failure,” and a “criminal.”
Prosecuting Scot Peterson is dangerous precedent.
Tomorrow, it may well be the teacher who had a gun and failed to act, because they were processing how to protect their students’ and their own lives. It could be the Pastor, Priest, Rabbi, or Imam at a house of worship who failed to protect their congregation from intolerant rage. Tomorrow’s Scot Peterson could be the mother who had a gun in her purse but didn’t engage the shooter at a little league game.
Prosecuting Peterson for the crimes of another is dangerous precedent. The 458-page report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and others directly involved, hypothesized that as many as 6 children could have been saved if Peterson had engaged.
Therein lies the problem. Hypothetical situations aren’t reality. It can’t be known for certain whether or not Peterson’s involvement would have saved lives, specifically six. It can’t be known for certain that an armed teacher would have yielded greater, or any, results.
We can’t know for certain. What can be known for certain is that the longer people go unchecked – and the longer “the system” remains unenforced – or the longer lawmakers and policy influencers remain inactive – mass shootings in schools, in houses of worship, in shopping centers, in nightclubs – in the United States – will continue with frequency.
Had lawmakers acted, or had the United States president not revoked restrictions related to Sandy Hook, perhaps all 17 lives could have been saved in Parkland.
The Las Vegas shooter killed 58 people; 871 people were injured, 422 with gunshot wounds. That shooter purchased 55 firearms and more than 100 accessories (scopes, bump stocks, cases, ammunition) in an eleven month span leading up to that shooting – yet there was no buying freeze, no investigation, no reporting or suspicion – nothing.
Yet every single time people ask these questions – they’re met with hypothetical rejections (ex. “…a database wouldn’t have made a difference.”) from lawmakers, and citizens, who view any attempt at regulation as an assault on the second amendment. Instead, they prefer to remain inactive, and to add more guns to the situation.
As a result, our schools have “Active Shooter Drills,” and as a nation, we experience mass shooting events with desensitizing frequency.
“There are a lot of opinions about what we need to do to keep our kids safe – but the one thing that our leaders can’t do is nothing.” – Mike Bush, KSDK, February 14, 2018
“You’re devastated, you’re disgusted when you hear about it – but what’s the saddest thing is that you’re not surprised.” – Anne Allred, KSDK, February 14, 2018