The school day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is normally scheduled to end at 2:40 p.m. On Wednesday, that school day was abruptly cut short.
On Wednesday, February 14, with 20 minutes to spare before the final bell, a 19-year-old former student arrived on his former high school campus at approximately 2:20 p.m., where he reportedly triggered the fire alarm, which prompted close to 3,000 students and staff members to evacuate their classrooms. Then he allegedly used a legally purchased AR-15-style gun to shoot and kill at least 17 people, and injure at least 14 more. Police arrived about 30 minutes later and sounded the alert on social media. The F.B.I. responded soon after. It took until 3:41 p.m. to find and apprehend the shooter, who has now been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, according to NBC News.
As the community mourns, lawmakers in Florida are responding with mixed ideas on what to do to address the recurring issue of gun violence in the state and the national trend of terrorists continually targeting schools. So far, that response has not included an official conversation on expanded gun safety laws, even though a recent Gallup poll showed that most Americans favor new gun control legislation.
Republican senator Marco Rubio of Florida released a statement yesterday that offered his prayers for those affected by the shooting. He later went on Fox News to echo the sentiment expressed by President Donald Trump that seemed to cast blame on the victims and others for not alerting authorities about the shooter, pointing to the shooter’s social media posts as overlooked signs of a troubled individual.
Rubio told Fox, “So all these things happened and yet somehow this individual escaped detection and was able to acquire this weapon and then go in and kill 17 people and injure many more. So, it can happen anywhere. It just takes one person with the wrong circumstances and you get into this situation.”
To Rubio, the key issue was a turbulent home life, not that in Florida, as the New York Times noted, purchasing an AR-15-style gun requires just one visit to a gun store where you can pass a background check and walk out with your purchase, as easy an exchange as stopping somewhere to fill your car with gas. (Teen Vogue’s request for further comment from Rubio received no response at the time of this writing.) The attack at Douglas High is far from the first instance of mass violence in Florida in recent years, following attacks at Pulse Nightclub in 2016 and at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2017. Gun safety activists like the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence cochair Patricia Brigham point to a preference in state legislative committees to hear a disproportionate amount of gun law expansion bills, while gun safety bills are never even put on the agenda to allow an official conversation to start. She worked on bills in both the Florida House of Representatives (H.B. 219) and Senate (S.B. 196) that have been ignored. “We put [the bills] forward last session,” Brigham told Teen Vogue. “They were sent to unfriendly committees and were never even placed on the agenda to get a hearing. The same thing has happened this year, and we believe that is a disgrace. Pro-gun or gun rights expansion bills are heard all the time and voted up or down in committees in Florida. And it’s time, it’s really past time, for legislators to start hearing gun safety bills in Florida.”
In the Florida state senate, S.B. 196 was introduced by Democratic senator Linda Stewart. Both Brigham and Stewart agreed that gun safety bills never made it to the floor because they were not part of the political agenda of Senator Greg Steube, who chairs the judiciary committee responsible for advancing the bill to be discussed on the senate floor. (At publishing time, Senator Steube’s office did not respond to a request for comment and has yet to release a public statement.)
Stewart tells Teen Vogue that she wants is the opportunity to have a discussion on her bill, which proposes to ban semiautomatic weapons like the AR-15 as well as large capacity magazines. One of her first points of action on the day after the Parkland shooting was to immediately meet with Steube to raise the discussion again, to fight for the bill to be put on the agenda for this session. When she arrived at his office, though, Steube had already left for his district. Stewart told Teen Vogue that she continues to try and get in touch with him but said that if the committee doesn’t approve the bill for its agenda on its final meeting on Tuesday, the bill will be pushed back another year. “So next year,” she said. “I will file it again.”
Stewart said her push for gun safety was largely in response to the Pulse Nightclub massacre, which took place in her district in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, but her bill never made it on Steube’s agenda in 2017. Instead, in that same period, Steube introduced or cointroduced many pro-gun bills that sought to ease background checks, allow for more open carry, and otherwise expand gun owners’ rights. One bill, C.S./S.B. 1048, seeks to specifically allow gun owners to carry weapons into churches and other places of worship and is currently on its third reading in the state senate.
Brigham says these actions are discouraging and frustrating for activists who want to respond to a community tragedy with preventable solutions, but gatekeepers like Steube keep the bill from proper debate. “He is one of the biggest gun expansion rights proponents in the Florida legislature,” she explains. “Year after year, he’s filed campus carry bills, open carry bills, airport carry bills, you name it. He has filed it, when it comes to a pro-gun stance. So, [S.B. 196] went to his committee and, of course, he did not agenda that bill this year or its version last year. In the House, it was sent to Representative Ross Spano’s committee and he did not place it on the agenda either.” (At the time of this writing, Spano’s office has not responded to a request for comment.) “So, they’re stuck. When [bills] don’t get heard, they don’t move,” Brigham says.
Teen Vogue has not yet received responses to requests for comment from U.S. senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, Florida state senators Gary Farmer, Kevin Rader, and Greg Steube, Florida representative Ross Spano, Florida Department of Education commissioner Pam Stewart, and Broward County superintendent Robert Runcie. Some of them have issued statements, like Rubio’s here, Runcie’s here, and most powerfully, Nelson’s call to action against assault rifles. Florida governor Rick Scott sent a statement, saying that he “will be organizing meetings with state and local leaders in Tallahassee next week to discuss ways to keep Florida students safe, including school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness.” Previously, Scott said in a press conference, “This is just absolutely pure evil,” he said. “This state does not tolerate violence. We have law enforcement that will always show up to defend our safety.”
While Rubio’s prayers, Nelson’s rally, and Scott’s declaration are appropriate reactions, the governor’s focus on mental illness over gun access and law enforcement’s duty to detect threats over legislators’ duty to protect and prevent threats reiterates community frustrations whenever the state responds to tragedy with what Stewart said is perceived as little to no action.
“There is nothing past Tuesday,” Stewart says. “Because that’s the last day that we can hear this bill in the senate this year. So my expectations are pretty low, even though I’ve tried to get it heard.” She continued, “Prayers and condolences and a lot of ‘I’m sorry,’ we all feel that way. There’s no doubt about that. It’s just that if you can’t get beyond that, then you really haven’t made an impact.”
Meanwhile, the message from President Trump arrived Thursday morning: “I want to speak now directly to America’s children, especially those who feel lost, alone, confused, or even scared: I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.”
These supportive words are skewed by the question: Does “anything at all” include considering gun safety laws? Until it does, Brigham points to grassroots organizations that have an impact at the local level and she says will be providing outreach in Broward County.
“It’s times like this when you have to just dig in deeper and fight harder and refuse to allow the gun lobby and those in its pocket to determine what should be the best for Floridians or Americans when it comes to guns,” Brigham says. “I mean, this isn’t a 2nd Amendment issue. This is a public safety issue.”