Opinion

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Closing Range

Enough is Enough

It’s high time for an adult discussion of what went wrong at Parkland and how to avoid those same mistakes in the future

Well, the Parkland students got their multimedia primal scream in Washington, DC. It was kind of impressive, even with CBS estimating the crowd at around 200,000, not the planned 500,000.

But I was not impressed with the rhetoric at all. As a 20-years-in Life Member of the National Rifle Association, I don’t appreciate being called a “terrorist,” with “blood on [my] hands.” I’m just as horrified and disgusted as anyone else could be about these atrocities.

I agree with the kids about one thing, though – enough is enough. It’s high time for an adult discussion of what went wrong at Parkland and how to avoid those same mistakes in the future.

What failed? Obviously, Florida’s mental health system. Everyone agrees mentally unsuited citizens and/or criminals shouldn’t get guns. Prior to this latest atrocity, however, our shooter didn’t just slip through a few system “cracks.” No, he lit multiple red flags on fire over a period of months as he ran back and forth to the gun store.

What failed next? The armed school resource officer, who decided to become, while he could still choose, a live coward instead of a dead (or wounded) hero.

So what needs to change here? Certainly, it is time to “fix NICS,” meaning getting adverse mental health records into the gun background check system. But the Parkland killer was never brought far enough into the system to trigger an adverse finding. America deserves to know exactly why he wasn’t, so that these failure points are identified and corrected nationwide.

There’s also increasing calls for more armed security in schools. But there are two aspects of the failure by the school officer that must be understood. Did you know that sworn police have no legal obligation or “duty to protect” civilians from active harm? It’s true. Multiple lawsuits have determined that police officers, while clearly in a position to intervene during an ongoing crime, are not obligated to act.

So, with the police having no duty to protect you, when it matters most, what might they decide to do, or not do? Most cops are brave, but not all – something to consider when seeking a solution that will be not only effective, but just.

An effective solution must “do the job” of preventing or stopping mass (not just school) killers. But how much might this “job” cost? The U.S. Department of Education counts over 131,000 public and private elementary and secondary schools in America, with 57 million students and over three million teachers.

If every school in America hired just one school resource officer at $50,000, it would cost $6.55 billion per year. Worth it? Well, since Columbine ushered in the “modern” era in 1998, about 300 people have been murdered in school shootings, an average of 15 dead a year.

If our SROs stop every shooter, every time, which we’re learning is a very real if, that’s $436.6 million per life saved – almost a half-billion dollars – if everything works perfectly.

Could resources be better applied otherwise, perhaps to improved mental health programs that prevent patients from becoming mass killers in the first place? Yes, as long as the funds go to a mental health regime designed to be just in its outcomes.

Legislators are considering “red flag” laws passed as a response to Parkland and prior disasters, but those laws need to be crafted with the best due-process safeguards. In America, no citizen, crazy or sane, should have any of their civil rights wrongly abridged without cause.

Any red-flag law will need to establish processes for evaluation and intake that are legally and scientifically rigorous. There must be no way for bad actors to “jam up” someone with a phone call about “acting crazy.” Criteria must be as objective and definitive as possible. Levels of care or intervention must match actual need, while the level of any “sanctions” or civil-rights restrictions must reflect objective findings of risk and/or threat.

Finally, even after someone is properly adjudicated as a genuine threat, the law must affirmatively provide opportunities to restore restricted rights if and when the factors resulting in a “threat” finding no longer apply.

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