Parkland Shooting Anniversary Prompts Question: Are Kids Safe From The Next Nikolas Cruz? [Opinion]

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the worst school shooting in recent memory.

This is a stock photo of the aftermath of a parkland shooting memorial.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the worst school shooting in recent memory.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, during which alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people, and injured 17 more. The shooting was — as is usually the case with mass school shootings in the U.S. — followed by impassioned pleas for gun control, for a better look at the country’s mental health apparatus, and for safety measures to be put in place to protect schools from shooters.

A year on, however, little has changed.

Calls for nationwide gun control stalled

Following the Parkland shooting, several of the survivors — most famously Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg — became prominent advocates for gun control. And indeed, they have may have played a role in informing the national discussion about gun control in the wake of the shooting.

Specifically, the debate focused on three legislative moves: banning so-called “bump stocks,” which are aftermarket mods that enable users to modify the gun so that it fires more rounds faster; tighter background checks that would keep individuals with mental illness, such as Cruz, from owning guns; and waiting periods for purchasing firearms.

A year later, steps have been taken, in Florida and other states, to enact those measures into law. However, at the national level, that type of gun control remains elusive, according to the New York Times. Critics frequently cite a lack of will in Washington to make it happen, the lobbying power of the NRA (National Rifle Association), and the American electorate’s general hostility to gun control as reasons why gun control legislation has stalled.

Addressing mental health

That Nikolas Cruz was mentally ill at the time of the shooting is beyond dispute. As USA Today reports, Broward County deputies received at least 18 calls warning them about Nikolas Cruz between 2008 and 2017, during which span of time callers told police of Cruz’s rantings about his plans to “shoot up” a school.

Cruz had been treated for mental illness before the shooting — including several evaluations by mental health professionals, according to the Washington Post. Those evaluations are contradictory — one revealed him to be a “vulnerable adult due to mental illness,” while another evaluation determined him to be of “low risk” for violence.

Yet despite this, Cruz was still able to purchase weapons.

Beyond the matter of people with mental illness being allowed to purchase weapons, Cruz’s story highlights the limitations of the mental health apparatus in the U.S. For starters, the system cannot force treatment on someone who doesn’t want it — and even so, treating mental illness is a lifetime process that may yield just as many failures as it does victories. Even those patients who desire treatment for mental illness are often held back from seeking treatment because of lack of insurance, lack of access to professionals, or from the social stigma which surrounds mental illness.

Security theater at schools

Almost every school in the United States — since the Columbine shooting in 1999 — has had some measure of security in place to prevent school shootings. Those measures range from metal detectors at the door to armed police officers stationed in the school.

But do those systems prevent school shootings? They certainly didn’t at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that day, due in large part to human error and dereliction of duty.

Even when the system works, however, there are downsides, according to Politifact. Critics of the system gesture towards the philosophical matter of sending children to be educated in an environment that they argue has much in common with a prison — and the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. There’s also the fact that — as happened in 2005 — a determined school shooter could simply shoot the guard at the metal detector and then walk inside.

The whole does not equal the sum of its parts

School safety involves multiple processes all working in concert together — and doing so perfectly, every time. Gun control, metal detectors, and mental illness treatment are only three pieces of the puzzle. The list of other pieces of the puzzle, proposed and in-place, is lengthy and ever-growing. Children might be taught to look for signs of a potential school shooter, and to know how to report them. Authorities should be given some additional tools to be able to meaningfully respond to such a report.

Gun merchants should be called upon to be more diligent. Teachers and school officials should be trained in threat assessment. Schools should have locking classroom doors as a means of preventing a shooter from gaining entry.

Even so, the system isn’t foolproof, as is obvious whenever another school shooting makes the news. There are systems in place to prevent them, but there are so many cracks in the system that people like Cruz are going to fall through them. Sealing up those cracks is going to take money, time, and political will — and even then, nothing is guaranteed.

So are your kids safe from the next Nikolas Cruz? Statistically, yes, but that’s of little comfort when you send them to school knowing that one of their peers may yet be able to barge in with loaded weapons and start shooting.