When it comes to gun violence, history keeps repeating itself, and we keep having the same debate over and over again. Gun control advocates demand more legislation and gun enthusiasts quote the Second Amendment: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
OK, where do we go from here after the horrific Valentine’s Day shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., where an alleged mentally disturbed young man, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled from that same school, walked in and opened fire with an AR-15 automatic rifle, killing 17 people and wounding many more? Cruz survived and faces 17 counts of first degree murder, which will probably earn him a well-deserved death sentence unless his defense attorneys can convince a Florida jury he didn’t know right from wrong when he opened fire.
Social media often play a key role in these tragic events and companies like Facebook and Instagram have a responsibility to alert the authorities when they see violent posts and/or threats on their electronic platforms. The FBI investigated a September 2017 YouTube posting by someone named Nikolas (same spelling) Cruz announcing “I’m going to be a professional school shooter,” but couldn’t track him down.
In 2011 I wrote a column titled “Crazy People With Guns” after 32-year-old mental patient Eduardo Sencion walked into our local IHOP and shot five people to death before he killed himself. At that time I asked the following question: “Why weren’t those who provided the guns to Sencion charged as accessories to murder?” I asked Carson Sheriff Ken Furlong the same question after the mass killing in Parkland, Fla., and here’s part of his thoughtful answer:
“Eduardo Sencion was receiving Social Security benefits for his paranoid schizophrenic diagnosis,” Furlong told me. “However, although he was being treated for this (mental illness), he had never been involuntarily hospitalized in a mental health facility ... Eduardo was never diagnosed as a threat to himself or others.” Nevertheless, “Weapons were an important part of Eduardo’s life (and) his senior project in high school was on weapons safety.”
“Many of the circumstances that occurred here (at the Carson IHOP) are representative of what we see nationally,” the sheriff continued. “There were signals of impending disaster (but) no one reacted with proactive emphasis.” That is, everyone thought Sencion was OK as long as he was taking his medications. Furlong said the shooter obtained his guns legally by lying on his application to purchase them, thereby passing an FBI background check.
Furlong pointed out the ongoing constitutional conflict between our cherished right to privacy and law enforcement’s primary responsibility to protect the public. “The greatest challenge we face is the reporting of significant information” about potential shooters, he said. “Therefore, the most credible alerting mechanisms actually rest on the shoulders of family, friends, associates and health care providers ...”
In other words, if you see something, say something. Good advice, Sheriff.
Furlong and Carson Juvenile Services Chief Ali Banister will participate in a timely and important Chamber of Commerce-sponsored “Soup’s On” luncheon presentation and discussion on mental health and crime at Gold Dust West on Tuesday. Tickets are available at the Chamber.
“As mental health issues continue to grow, so does crime,” said Chamber Executive Director Ronni Hannaman in announcing the luncheon topic. “More and more young people are facing time in youth detention or jail. Why is this happening and what can be done about it?” Good questions that may be answered at the “Soup’s On” luncheon on Tuesday. I’ll see you there.
Guy W. Farmer is a former English/Spanish courtroom interpreter.