opinion   |   oped

EDITORIAL: America needs smarter gun laws

Seventeen people were shot and killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, raising the overall death toll in school shootings to 138 in the mere five years since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.

The Editorial Board would like to echo the sentiments expressed by students from Parkland and demand policy change beyond the thoughts and prayers of politicians that, at this point, are all but worthless.


The rhetoric surrounding the Parkland shooting suggests that Nikolas Cruz’s history, particularly his mental health, are concerning to the public. While we would like to stress that mental illnesses are not statistically dangerous and it is not the responsibility of victims to prevent mass shootings, we also acknowledge recognizing warning signs can save lives.

Neighbors and classmates recall Cruz’s cruelty to animals, his fascination with guns, and instances in which he would explicitly introduce himself as a “school shooter.” 

Law enforcement responded to 39 calls at Cruz’s home over a seven-year period. However, police reports have not been made available, thus making it impossible to determine Cruz’s involvement. 

Despite his background, Cruz was able to legally purchase the AR-15 he used in the shooting because Florida gun laws require a judge to deem individuals “mentally defective” in order to bar them from purchasing firearms. Florida law defines mentally defective as a person who has "marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition or disease" which makes them a danger to others or themselves.

Because Cruz had no such label and had  visited a therapist five days before the shooting, the narrative of his mental health has focused on missed opportunities for intervention. 

This emphasis on intervention would be more appropriate if Florida were one of the five states with “red flag laws” that allow concerned family members, guardians or law enforcement to ask judges to temporarily strip gun rights from people who show warning signs of violence. 

The Editorial Board fully endorses these laws and sees them as an effective method of empowering communities to take preventative measures while also avoiding the demonization of mental illnesses. 

In addition to implementing red flag laws, the current infrastructure that manages this information needs to be improved. When a person’s criminal behavior or, in rare cases, mental health issues make it likely for them to become violent, the only way for this verdict to affect their gun ownership is for their status to be submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Many states do not report the names of people who have been labeled dangerous, however. This limits the effectiveness of background checks. 

The potential benefits of background checks are further limited by the fact background checks are not required for private gun sales. We need universal background checks in order to close loopholes in federal law that allow gun sales by private owners, which often occur online or at gun shows, to forego background checks. 

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have been developing a bill that would create new incentives for states and federal agencies to upload appropriate information to NICS in order to address the harmful gaps in data.

When properly implemented, background checks are very effective. Since their inception in 1994, almost 3 million people were denied a firearm transfer or permit. The Editorial Board hopes Congress will not only prioritize Cornyn and Murphy’s bill but also expand it to require universal checks. 

That said, one bill would certainly not be enough. We implore state legislatures to pass red flag laws in order to ensure change comes at a federal and local level. Anything less would be a continued insult to those who have lost their lives while lawmakers remain maddeningly inactive. 

As Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez said at a rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Saturday, “If you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it's time to start doing something.” 

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