stop gun violence

After the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, our elected officials are screaming “If you see something, say something!” Well, after nearly 300 school shootings since 2013 with 18 this year, I’m seeing something. And I’m saying something.

When a former student entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15, smoke grenades and plenty of ammo, he killed 17 students and teachers. After learning that students and teachers were worried about him, every politician took the opportunity to say the banal “If you see something, say something!”

“As reactions poured in Thursday, President Donald Trump focused on the young man’s mental health, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he wants the Justice Department to study how mental illness and gun violence intersect, to better understand how law enforcement can use existing laws to intervene before school shootings begin,” wrote Terry Spencer and Kelli Kennedy with the Associated Press.

Shooter Nikolas Cruz and his cache of weapons
Shooter Nikolas Cruz and his cache of weapons

“‘It cannot be denied that something dangerous and unhealthy is happening in our country,’ Sessions told a group of sheriffs in Washington. In ‘every one of these cases, we’ve had advance indications and perhaps we haven’t been effective enough in intervening,” the authors continued.

Believe it or not, Barack Obama suggested the exact same thing after the Sandy Hook shooting. He sought permission to allow the CDC to study how mental illness and gun violence intersect, exactly what Senator Sessions called for. But in 2016, Congress extended the two decade ban on enabling the CDC to study the causes of gun violence, including mental health. Any guesses as to how Senator Sessions voted on that?

In that same AP article, the reporters wrote “Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he’s already told House Speaker Richard Corcoran that ‘if someone is mentally ill, he should not have access to a gun.’”

Well, four years after the Sandy Hook shooting, President Obama and Congress finally reached a compromise, according to the Hartford Courant. “U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the second-highest ranking Republican in the chamber, fought to include legislation in the bill that would require a full judicial hearing to ban someone with mental illness from buying guns.” Sure it would make it much harder for law enforcement to stop someone with mental illness from buying a gun, but it was at least something, right?

Well, here’s what happened in Trump’s first month in office. “President Donald Trump quietly signed a bill into law Tuesday rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun,” according to Ali Vitali with NBC News. It was revoked by H.J. Res. 40, and supported by the NRA. In 2017, Nicholas Cruz (Nick Cruz, Nikolas Cruz) bought an AR-15. Scott’s Florida didn’t fingerprint him, require a special permit, or require a waiting period which could have helped law enforcement.

“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior,” tweeted President Trump. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Well, I am reporting that our health officials are unable to study the effects of mental health on gun violence, and have been barred from doing so for more than 20 years. And I am reporting that a law that would keep mentally ill people from buying a gun that passed not long ago was also repealed last year.


Author’s Note: This column is in honor of Jamie Bishop, the son of my colleague and friend Michael Bishop. Jamie was killed by a mentally ill gunman at Virginia Tech, along with 31 other students and faculty on April 16, 2007.

Images: "Vigil for victims of the Parkland Florida school shooting" and "Shooter Nikolas Cruz and his cache of weapons" by @browardsheriff and browardsheriffofficial (fair use).
John A. Tures

John A. Tures

John A. Tures is an Associate Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in Georgia.  He writes about international politics, elections, sports, and the War of 1812.