Op-ed: Warning signs ignored again

  • By Cal Thomas
  • Tuesday, February 20, 2018 9:18am
  • Opinion

Reaction to the latest school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and many more wounded begins at the wrong end. It’s not about passing more gun laws, which people intent on breaking existing laws will not obey; rather it is about heeding warning signs and doing something before it is too late.

In the case of 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged with premeditated murder, the signs were like a flashing red light. Former classmates offered a profile in danger to the media. They called Cruz, who had been expelled from the school for disciplinary reasons, a “loner” and “weird.”

In a YouTube video by someone named Nikolas Cruz there is this comment: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” Law enforcement reportedly flagged the comment last September and YouTube removed it.

With all of these previews of coming destruction, why wasn’t any action taken? Could Cruz have been helped? He was reportedly receiving “mental counseling,” but clearly it was not enough to prevent this tragedy. Cruz is reportedly an orphan, but was there no one close to him who might have been helpful to him?

We are constantly told by law enforcement, “If you see something, say something.” With Cruz there was plenty to see and also plenty to say. Did anyone speak up? The Florida campus reportedly had an armed officer onsite, though this officer never encountered Cruz during the shooting. Could there have been a quicker response? Could anyone have acted pre-emptively to force Cruz to get some help? Could he have been committed to a mental health facility for his own protection, and for the protection of others?

Metal detectors, armed guards and security passes for students, staff and teachers have all been proposed and in some cases tried as ways to discourage shooters from entering schools where unarmed students are trapped like fish in a barrel. School shooters and terrorists (and this was an act of terror no matter the motive) look for soft targets and there are few targets softer than a school full of kids.

Lawmakers in Florida and in Congress need to consider legislation that would give mental health professionals a way to intervene in cases of disturbed individuals who need psychological help, but aren’t getting it. For those who seem most dangerous — like Cruz — perhaps laws could be enacted that would forcibly commit them to treatment, thereby cutting down on the number of mass shootings.

Social workers can intervene on behalf of young children they believe are being abused or neglected. In extreme cases, they can even remove the child from its home if the child is in need of protection. Could something like this be done with the mentally disturbed, without violating their constitutional rights? Don’t we have the constitutional right to live free of the threat of mass shootings? Shouldn’t the rights of the innocent be paramount?

To paraphrase a certain commercial about identity theft, no law can prevent all mass murder, or someone acquiring a gun, legally or illegally (Cruz’s AR-15 was apparently legally acquired), but the mayor of Broward County, Florida, Beam Furr, told the Miami Herald the shooting could have been prevented. “We missed the signs,” said Furr, a former teacher, adding, “We should have seen some of the signs.”

The signs were there for everyone to see. The problem with this shooting, as well as all the others, was the refusal to act. Action just might have prevented this tragedy.

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.

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