What If the Only Crack Through Which Nikolas Cruz Fell Was Legal Gun Access?

[Content Note: Gun violence; disablism.]

A lot of different people and entities have been blamed for failing to stop Nikolas Cruz from killing 17 people in the Parkland shooting. And, as the investigation continues, there is yet more blame to go around.

A new report from Salvador Hernandez at BuzzFeed, for instance, reveals that, despite Broward County Sheriff's officials "publicly insisting they responded to just 23 calls regarding the suspected Florida school shooter and his family over the years," records obtained by the news outlet appear to "show at least 45 responses since 2008. The number of calls made over the years involving Cruz or his family, according to the call records, are nearly twice the number publicly disclosed by the department."

If true, the fact that officials are lying about the number is very troubling, but that's a separate issue from whether they failed to do everything they could to prevent Cruz from committing his act of mass violence.

Maybe they did fail. That's certainly an easy accusation to make. It's just as easy as a bunch of (racist) Recliner Rambos shaming the campus police officer who did not run into Cruz's line of fire to try to stop him.

But what if the police department actually did everything allowable under current laws? I don't know if they did, but I don't know that they didn't, either. People are similarly angry at social services who "failed to stop" Cruz — and that's a reflection not only of the frantic search to find someone to blame (besides the shooter), but also, as I recently noted in comments, of the deep misunderstanding of the role of social services and how mental health interventions work.

It's evident, reading public commentary on the Parkland shooting, that many people believe the role of Family Services to be seizing "crazy people" and tossing them in "asylums" and locking them away forever and throwing away the keys. That is not the role of Family Services!

There are laws against precisely that sort of thing, and every one of us should be glad that there are, lest we be imprisoned on the basis of someone reporting that we're a danger to public safety.

Just like my assessment of law enforcement, I am not certain whether social services did everything allowable under the law (or if, critically underfunded, they even had the resources to do so) to deter Cruz. I do know, however, that it's entirely possible that Cruz simply didn't meet the criteria for additional attention and/or detention, because not all mass shooters are mentally ill.

Just circularly arguing, as many people do, that all mass shooters are "insane" because anyone who does such a thing must be "insane" doesn't make it so.

And, even if he is mentally ill, he still might not meet the criteria for any state intervention, by social services or law enforcement.

There's this pervasive idea that if, someone gets flagged, there will be swift and meaningful action taken "by authorities" to prevent that person from doing harm to others. But unless a detailed plot or actionable threat to harm others is uncovered, or some other illegal activity, detaining a person, no less indefinitely, is not lawful. Nor should it be.

Flagging can (and should) trigger an investigation, and it can (and should) trigger social interventions to provide access to any and all means of care. That's what "doing something" means.

And it seems quite possible that the police and social services "did something." Maybe everything they could.

So what we're left with is this: Perhaps the only crack through which Nikolas Cruz fell was legal gun access.

Yes, let us make sure that law enforcement is doing everything they can, starting with treating more seriously domestic violence as a potential indicator of future mass violence. And yes, let us make sure that social services are fully funded so that they may be fully empowered and offer comprehensive services to all people in need, not just people threatening mass violence.

But let us also take seriously the reality that, even in the best of circumstances, law enforcement and social services — and family and friends and schools and community — might do everything they are able to do and still it won't be enough to prevent a mass shooting.

And that the only thing that would be enough is significantly reducing, if not eradicating, access to guns.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus