Currently, the Second Amendment in general, and specifically the rights of millions of young Americans, are under assault. Why? Presumably, because of the actions of the single 19-year-old who committed mass murder in Parkland, Florida. While the shooter was an adult at the time and responsible for his actions, the government is more than a little culpable in setting the stage to allow this tragedy to happen.
The shooter (I believe in the philosophy of not giving murders the glory they seek by using their name) was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He was 19 years old and legally able to buy firearms and pass a NICS check, and that was the government’s fault. Specifically, the trail leads back to the groundwork President Obama’s administration put forward.
Some may contend background checks are a violation of the Second Amendment. Fair enough, but while we have them, let’s look at the elements that led up to the Parkland shooting. First, we need to understand some of the reasons a person could, and should, fail a background check, such as being:
- Convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years.
- Convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or the subject of a protection/restraining order for domestic violence.
- Adjudicated for mental health.
The Parkland shooter was cleared through the National Crime Information Center (NICS) database because he fit none of the above criteria, which leads us to policies originating from the Obama Administration.
The Parkland shooter committed numerous documented offenses for which he should have been arrested leading up to the murder of 14 students.
The Dirty Little Secret
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and hundreds of additional schools across the nation, is currently part of a program that allows thousands of troubled, violent students to commit crimes without legal consequence. In fact, student offenders may eventually be rewarded by the school for such acts, but more on that later. The aim of the program was to slow what was termed as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Four or five years ago, the Broward County school system changed its discipline policy. The purpose was to make it difficult, if not impossible, for administrators to suspend or expel problem students or campus police to arrest them for misdemeanors. This policy set the stage that allowed the Parkland shooter to not be arrested for the crimes he allegedly committed in the years and months leading up to the deadly school shooting. Had the policy not been in place and he been arrested, he should not have been able to pass a NICS check.
The Broward County School District did not come up with this plan. Instead, it was an Obama-era policy that was fostered in 2011 and billed to improve race relations and eliminate perceived excesses in “zero tolerance” discipline policies.
According to Real Clear Investigations, Broward School Superintendent Robert W. Runcie—a Chicagoan and Harvard graduate with close ties to President Obama and his Education Department—signed an agreement with the county sheriff and other local jurisdictions to trade cops for counseling. Students charged with various misdemeanors, including assault, would now be disciplined through participation in “healing circles,” obstacle courses, and other “self-esteem building” exercises.
The news has featured Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel several times, stating much of the blame lays at his feet. In truth, Israel can be seen in a 2013 video signing the (Runcie initiated) district’s 16-page “collaborative agreement on school discipline.” The agreement enumerates more than a dozen misdemeanors that could no longer be reported to police. It goes on to add five steps police had to “exhaust” before consideration of a crime, never mind actually placing a student under arrest.
Runcie’s plan asserted that minority students in particular were unfairly treated by traditional approaches to school discipline. Therefore, the goal was to take significant measures to stop arrests and ensure that students, no matter how delinquent, graduated without criminal records.
As of today, the policy has produced several notable outcomes. Broward went from leading the state of Florida in student arrests to documenting one of Florida’s lowest school-related incarceration rates. Out-of-school suspensions and expulsions plummeted. And, it allowed a future mass murderer to escape justice and the criminal record it would have produced, pass a NICS check, and eventually murder 14 of his fellow students.
“He had a clean record, so alarm bells didn’t go off when they looked him up in the system,” veteran FBI agent Michael Biasello told Real Clear Investigations (RCI). “He probably wouldn’t have been able to buy the murder weapon if the school had referred him to law enforcement.”
Money and Coercion?
Applications for federal grants reveal that Runcie’s plan factored into approval of tens of millions of dollars in federal funding from Duncan’s department.
In January 2014, Runcie’s department issued new discipline guidelines strongly recommending that the nation’s schools use law enforcement measures and out-of-school suspensions as a last resort. The new procedures were publicly communicated as friendly guidance from the Education Department. However, not so publicly communicated were the threats of federal investigations and defunding for districts that refused to fully comply. In 2015, the Obama Administration spotlighted Runcie’s leading role in the effort during a summit called “Rethink School Discipline.”
Is this the fault of the Obama Administration, or does the Trump Administration deserve commendation as well? While the rules are still in effect today, the Trump Administration has been actively trying to withdraw them. However, due to administrative regulations, it has been delayed to this point.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has called for congressional hearings on school shootings. “We have got to have an honest conversation,” she said. Will that include the government’s role in this shooting? Will it include stripping the Second Amendment rights of millions of young adults to bear arms?
According to Real Clear Investigations, the core of Runcie’s plan is a program called PROMISE (Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support & Education), which substitutes counseling in place of criminal detention for students who break the law.
Additional literature reveals that students referred to PROMISE for in-school misdemeanors—including assault, theft, vandalism, underage drinking, and drug use—receive a controversial alternative punishment known as restorative justice.
“Rather than focusing on punishment, restorative justice seeks to repair the harm done,” the district explains. Indeed, it isn’t really punishment at all. It’s more like therapy. Delinquents gather in “healing circles” with counselors, and sometimes even the victims of their crime, and talk about their feelings and “root causes” of their anger.
Counselors reward students who participate in the sessions and respond appropriately to difficult situations with prizes called “choice rewards,” which the offender selects in advance. Parents are asked to chip in money to help pay for the rewards. This means you can commit an assault, participate in a healing circle, and get a prize you chose.
However, a 210-page district report on “Eliminating the School to Prison Pipeline” lists “assault/threat” and “fighting,” as well as “vandalism,” among “infractions aligned with participation in the PROMISE program,” and it states that the recommended consequences for such misdemeanors are a “student essay,” “counseling” and “restorative justice.”
Although the Parkland shooter was disciplined for a string of offenses—assault, threatening teachers, and carrying bullets in his backpack—he was never taken into custody or expelled. This allowed the shooter to avoid a criminal record and pass federal background checks to purchase firearms. In fact, one month prior to purchasing the weapon used in the shooting, he was disciplined with a one-day internal suspension for an “assault” at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and evaluated as a potential “threat.” It was his second offense for fighting in less than four months, but campus police did not make an arrest in either case. However, prior to Runcie’s plan being implemented, repeat offenders would have been arrested under the district’s zero-tolerance policies within the official “discipline matrix” used over the previous decade.
The Failure of the System
The lack of an arrest record hindered police efforts to confirm the Parkland shooter was a proven threat. According to law enforcement, this slowed or prevented any intervention when law enforcement received call-in tips and complaints from neighbors, classmates, and relatives regarding his potential desire to kill people.
About a month before the February 14 shooting, the FBI hotline received a tip about the shooter being a potential school gunman. However, the FBI failed to take action. Perhaps, if he had been previously arrested and booked for the on-campus misdemeanors, the FBI intake specialist handling the call would have seen his violent history in the federal National Crime Information Center database, which includes all state arrests, convictions, warrants, and alerts.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office received at least 45 calls related to Cruz and his brother dating back to 2008—including a February 2016 call from a neighbor warning he made a threat on Instagram to “shoot up” the high school and another last November advising he was collecting guns and knives and appeared to be “a school shooter in the making.” Though deputies visited Cruz at his home, they did not try to recover his weapons, despite requests from relatives who feared he planned to use them on his classmates.
Supporters of the Second Amendment often condemn lawmakers for highlighting a single incident such as the Parkland shooting and widely applying it to an entire class of firearms or in this case 18 to 20 years olds. Should we do the same with the effort to eliminate the so-called “schools to prison pipeline” program? I am sure we can all agree the shooter is ultimately responsible for his horrific actions, but are there others who should be held accountable? Should the actions of the government in any way change debate as to the legal age to own a firearm?
Share your answers in the comment section.
Sign up for K-Var’s weekly newsletter and discounts here.