On Wednesday, at least 17 teachers and students were killed by a 19-year-old man armed with a semiautomatic assault rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The gunman has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
The FBI had previously been alerted to violent and threatening content on the gunman’s social media and YouTube accounts. For a while he had been receiving mental health treatment at a clinic, but hadn’t been there in more than a year.
Many were aware that the young gunman could be capable of extreme violence. Prior to being expelled from the same high school he later targeted, school administrators had required that the future-gunman carry all of his belongings in plastic bags so that no weapons could be concealed in a backpack.
Despite these concerns, the gunman was able to legally purchase high-capacity magazines and an AR-15, one of the most deadly military-style firearms available on the market. There are an estimated 8 million AR-15 rifles across the country.
The gunman was reportedly a member of a white supremacist militia group who claimed that he had trained with them at least once, training that likely helped him carry out his attack on the school. Members of the white supremacist group and students at the school both confirm that the gunman was stalking a girl who is currently a student at the high school.
The girl he was stalking is believed to be a former ex-girlfriend whom he was abusive towards. More than half of mass shootings have been committed by gunman with a history of violence against women.
In his address to the nation on Thursday, President Trump did not once mention gun reform policy, instead blaming mental disturbances.
But a year ago, the Congress and President Trump quietly rolled back an Obama-era order that made it more difficult for people with mental illnesses to purchase firearms. In doing so, Trump stopped approximately 75,000 people who suffer from mental illness or are not trusted to handle their own finances from being added the national background check database. At the time, the White House tried to cover up the rollback by not publicizing the bill signing and burying the alert about it at the bottom of a press notification.
Despite the majority of Americans supporting commonsense gun reform like universal background checks, bans on assault weapons, and barring gun purchases for people on terrorist watch lists, the National Rifle Association, an interest group widely considered to be an advocate for the gun manufacturing industry, has succeeded in blocking almost all legislation that would implement stronger gun laws.
The NRA was the single largest donor group to President Trump’s campaign and has spent tens of millions of dollars on Congressional campaign contributions and on candidate spending in order to buy political influence within the Republican Party. In the last year, Democrats have introduced over 30 pieces of legislation aimed at curbing gun violence and only four of those bills have had GOP co-sponsors.
In addition to making it easier for people with mental illnesses to purchase firearms, Trump has taken a number of other measures to put guns into the hands of potentially dangerous people. Last year he purged the background check system of 500,000 people who had been barred from buying guns because they have warrants out for their arrest. The GOP has also been attempting to pass a bill to make it easier to buy gun silencers, though debate on the legislation keeps being delayed due to high profile mass shootings. And Trump’s most recent budget blueprint calls for a 16 percent reduction in funding to the program that gives states resources to improve their national background check databases.
The 1994 federal Assault Weapons Ban successfully led to a decrease in total gun murders, and use of assault weapons in crimes declined by two-thirds over nine years. Yet since the ban expired in 2004, Congress has refused to reauthorize it, despite mass shooting after mass shooting in which assault weapons were the primary cause of carnage, including the Las Vegas mass shooting that killed over 50 concert goers in October. The NRA has been very active in advocating against the assault weapons ban. And in spite of promises after Las Vegas to ban bump stocks, Congress has yet to pass any legislation on the matter.
Parkland witnessed the 18th school shooting of 2018; that’s an average of one every sixty hours, more than double the amount in the same time span from the previous three years. Three of the ten deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history have occurred in the last five months.
Media Resources: Huffington Post 2/14/18, 2/15/18; NBC News 2/28/17; New York Times 10/4/17; Boston Globe 2/15/18; Senate Office of Dianne Feinstein; New York Magazine 2/15/18