I used to work for a guy who thought he could solve problems by writing a memo. He would get on his dictaphone (an ancient communication device). His secretary (an ancient chauvinist term) would transcribe and Xerox the result, and pass it around to all of us. Quite often, the problem was not solved. Some times, it wasn’t even addressed. But the boss felt good. He has checked the box on his list.
Government works the same way in many cases. A problem manifests itself. An outcry ensues. A law is passed or a regulation is written. However, the result is nothing but words on paper or a computer screen. If the words don’t adequately address the issue, or the purported policy is not implemented/enforced, nothing happens. In some cases, the attempt to implement the rule makes matters worse. The only guaranteed result is that legislators/regulators celebrate with some chest pounding and announcements that the problem is solved.
We recently endured a heinous school shooting in Florida. A deranged young man entered an upscale high school and shot students at random. Some of the surviving students organized a movement. Because they are attractive and articulate young people, and because their cause fits an existing narrative (the NRA is the source of all evil), their cause has received very favorable coverage. What do they want? Government action! Laws that regulate the possession of firearms.
It is my belief that the media and political class have entirely missed the point. Why should we be seeking new government action when the obvious and proximate and direct cause of the tragedy was abysmal failure by government at many levels? The whole endeavor is faced in the wrong direction.
The shooter spent three years in high school in the area . . . at six different schools. He repeatedly engaged in disruptive and violent actions. He was never seriously sanctioned. There was no psychological evaluation. There was no intervention. The smelly can was simply kicked from one institution to another until the problem went away. Where was child services? Nowhere to be found.
In 2014, local voters approved an $800,000,000 bond issue whose purported purpose was school improvements. The usual pitch — if only you’ll give us enough money, we will solve the problem. Planned upgrades in a $104,000,000 segment of the bond included a new alarm system for Stoneman High. That upgrade was listed as a “year-one priority” in the ballot material. Let’s be generous and say 2015 was “year-one”. Let’s then say that 2016 was year two.
The local police (sheriff's deputies in this case) were called out to the future shooter’s residence 47 times due to his disruptive and violent behavior. Would it have been a good idea at the time of the 46th or 47th visit to ask if the kid owned a gun, and consider getting a court order to take it away from him? Strengthening background checks, including checks at those evil gun shows, is utterly irrelevant if we can’t manage to prevent someone like the shooter in this case from owning a gun.
At least two calls were made to the FBI tip line about the shooter. The prospect of a school shooting was communicated. NOTHING WAS DONE! FBI headquarters didn’t even pass the information to the local office. I am unaware of any effort to find out how that happened. If there is an investigation, it has gone unreported.
My purpose in writing this blog is to induce rational consideration of public policy issues and lower the heat of our political rhetoric. I studiously try to avoid hyperbole and feigned outrage. In this case I am outraged. Government failed those dead kids, spectacularly. It should be held to account. Throwing gorilla dust at the problem by campaigning for more regulation is a travesty. We may need better gun control, but that is an entirely separate matter, and it deserves calm consideration.
If you want to do something for those kids, find out who is running against the Sheriff of Broward County in the next election and support the most credible candidate with a contribution. The current Sheriff was not only derelict in his duties, he had the audacity to get up in front of television cameras and brag about the fine job he was doing.
If a public interest law firm sues the county to get an audit of expenditures from the bond issue, send them some money. The people who made unkept promises in order to induce tax payers to vote for the indebtedness should be sanctioned. The finger of blame for the death of those kids should be pointed at those who failed to get the alarm installed on a timely basis.
The kids organizing the movement should be encouraged to hold a demonstration at the offices of the child welfare department of Broward County. If social workers can’t manage to address a problem as egregious as this shooter, why are they getting pay, benefits and a generous retirement stipend?
Finally, a march on Washington is definitely in order . . . to FBI headquarters. What is the point of a tip line if nobody listens to the tips? We need to find out who dropped the ball and why.