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Di Leo: Horror in Parkland, and a Lifetime of Warnings



Stoneman Douglas High School

By John F. Di Leo –

At this writing, we know that Nikolas Cruz was diagnosed and possibly medicated for mental illness, that he was adopted by parents who had both died by the time he was 19, and that he was a troublesome enough kid to have been expelled from school for it.

We also know that his disciplinary issues went back years, at least through middle school, and that he had repeatedly been suspected of being a killer in the making; he famously even said online that he intended to be a professional school shooter someday.

And in an era of the frequently cited official policy of the government, for what seems like decades now – “If you see something, say something!” – people had seen things, and had said things over the years.

And still, on February 14, 2018, he returned to his old school in Parkland, Florida and murdered at least 17 people, injuring many more. 

The Distraction of “Gun Control”

Every time there is such a horror, the Left rushes to declare that this is “yet another example of why we need gun control.”

And this forces the Right to respond to that charge, pointing out that we already do have considerable gun control – federal buyer checks, waiting periods, and a full-fledged criminal justice system – so clearly gun control isn’t the solution.  Tens of millions of people own guns without ever committing crimes with them… and in fact, guns are used to foil and prevent crimes as much as they are used in the commission of crimes. 

So gun control is clearly not an answer, as such. Not that there aren’t aspects of existing controls that make sense – running purchasers through a federal database, for example – but it cannot be a stand-alone solution, because it is managed by human beings who make mistakes (such as failing to update a state or local record to a federal database, or doing so imperfectly due to a programming error).

In most of the mass shootings of recent years – at schools, theaters, malls, etc. – certain patterns have emerged.

  1. They are often considered mentally ill, and are dependent on prescription medications, prescribed by their therapists.
  2. They have often had a history of lesser offenses that were either not prosecuted at all or were given light sentences. This is a particular challenge with schools, which might prefer to just expel a student rather than to press charges.
  3. They tend to be supportive of left-wing extremist causes, with social media posts championing Soros-funded groups and leftist candidates. If old enough to be registered voters, they’re invariably Democrat.
  4. They tend to have been recognized as potential or likely future dangers by fellow students, teachers, or coworkers.
  5. And sometimes – just sometimes – they have been recently radicalized by islamofascist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda.

At this writing, the last point doesn’t appear to apply to Nikolas Cruz, but the first four do.

So there we are, then. The armchair quarterbacks of the punditry and the water cooler can easily prescribe a solution to the problem of mass shootings:

All we have to do is look for these five warning signs: shrinks have prescribed meds, they were troublemakers in school, they’re Democrats, other kids reported them as creepy, they’ve grown a beard and started going to a mosque.

Easy, huh?

Correlation Is Not Causation

The problem with this common snap judgment is that there are millions of people whose medication works for them, and they’re honest, decent members of society. There have been plenty of people throughout history who were bad students, even troublemakers, but who straightened up as adults without ever doing anything really bad, however much their teachers may have hated having them in class.  There are tens of millions of Democrats who are good, decent, wonderful people, whose only truly destructive act in their lives is committed on election day, out of gullibility or misunderstanding, not malice.  There are lots of false reports filed every day by people who misunderstand a person or his actions; there are millions of muslims who don’t heed their imams' calls to murder, but just say their prayers and live regular lives.

So even these commonalities do not necessarily make it easier to catch a criminal, lock him up, and prevent him from committing his eventual crime. Horrified as we are by crimes like the Parkland shooting, we must also remember that people have civil rights for good reason in this country… rights that have been hard-won over 800 years… rights that should not be easily discarded in the hope of preventing “some shooting to be named later.”

We must understand the impetus for such desperate efforts… but we must remember our history and our reasons for making snap judgments and preemptive action as difficult as possible.

Eight Hundred Years of Progress

In ancient times, and well into the middle ages, government was all-powerful. If a king, duke, vassal or functionary wanted your goods, your land, your wife or your daughter, he could take it, by virtue of his position of power. 

We always think of revolutions, rebellions and political struggles as being about taxes, but it’s often about much more than that. Whether you’re talking about the barons, known as the Committee of 25, who stood up to King John and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, or the Continental Congress that stood up to King George III, the history books always stress crippling taxes as the issue that prompted the actions, but it often wasn’t.

Trumped-up charges – “he’s a Catholic, take his land!” and “She’s a witch, take her house!” – have been popular tools of big government since the dawn of time. They have used Trial by Water and Trial by Fire to convict anyone they wanted to, and the long battle of the Anglo-American legal tradition has been to win legal protections for the people, protecting us from such tools and ensuring that only the fairly convicted would suffer punishment at the hands of law enforcement.

The Committee of 25 started this journey with the Magna Carta in 1215, and progressed through the Petition of Right in 1628, with more victories in between and since… and the Founding Fathers of the United States carried on the charge on this side of the Atlantic, building on the work of the colonial legislatures of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and over two more centuries of American law have enshrined the concept that every citizen is innocent until proven guilty, and that prosecution and sentencing must follow crimes, not precede them.

The Challenge of “If You See Something, Say Something!”

We therefore have a quandary: how do we deal with people we think will become a threat, but who have not yet committed a crime?

To a large extent, this is an unanswerable question. For hundreds of years, it has been a key element of any philosophy discussion.  College students today hold whole seminars to discuss some variant of this problem: “If you could go back in time, would it be moral to assassinate baby Adolf Hitler, or baby Pol Pot, or baby Josef Stalin, because you know for a fact what they will someday do if you don’t?”

This is not an easy question for a philosophy student; neither is it an easy question for a legal system based on eight centuries of devotion to the concept of individual liberty.

In the Nikolas Cruz case, we have at least four different groups of points at which something was seen and said, but nothing was done:

  1. As a student, when his schools took disciplinary measures against him.
  2. As a psychiatrist’s patient, when his doctors evaluated him and prescribed him medication.
  3. As a user of social media, when at least one known viewer called to report him to the FBI (the caller got at least two visits from the FBI as a result of his concern; the killer got none).
  4. And as a killer, arriving at school with guns and shooting up the place, but being met by no retaliatory fire at all because the school was undefended.

Our challenge as a free country is how to learn from this, without overreacting. Do we want our government to lock up kids for going to the doctor, or for posting something on facebook that might actually just be a tasteless joke? 

Do we want our government to be able to imprison people without trial (or even with a trial by a kangaroo court), potentially for life? They do that in socialist countries all the time.  It’s standard operating procedure in Cuba today, as it has been in every country on the far left, from Hitler’s Germany to Brezhnev’s Russia to Mao’s China to Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

The fact is, there are no easy answers to some questions. You can improve an economy with a tax cut, and you can scare off a potential invader by sending the sixth fleet for a show of strength… but when it comes to identifying future threats from US citizens who have not yet committed crimes, and finding a way to prevent them, it is not easy at all, and the few politicians who are honest about the issue need to say so, more often.

What Can We Do?

Studying the mass killings of recent years, it is clear that there are some things that we can and should look at… not with any hope that they will solve the issue completely, but in recognition that they could help reduce the incidents, and at least reduce the fatalities when they do occur.   For example:

  1. It used to be too easy to commit lunatics to mental hospitals. In the 1970s and 1980s, our society diligently reformed the system so that a husband couldn’t commit a wife he was tired of… but the pendulum swung too far, and now it’s almost impossible to commit anyone unless he’s 100% willing to be put away. We can and should reevaluate these rules at the national level, to make it easier to put people who merit it in strait jackets, without the risk of abuse that previously occurred.
  2. Our law enforcement system catches most criminals, but lets them go, either by not prosecuting, or by giving them a slap on the wrist, or by convicting them but giving short sentences so they are still out on the street in a matter of months or years. As just one example, an honorable Chicago police commander was gunned down two days before the Parkland shooting, by a four-time felon who had no business out on the streets. If we locked up criminals for longer periods, not only would they not be out there to commit more crimes, but our law enforcement community would be freer to follow up on leads like the one the Mississippi YouTuber called in to the FBI about Nikolas Cruz. When police must spend every day catching the same people over and over again, they don’t have time for proactive, productive efforts, following up on tips, checking our islamofascist, antifa, and other extremist groups, etc.
  3. When an attacker approaches a school, theater, mall or sporting event, how is it handled? Well, most of the time, we are dependent on luck: either the shooter runs out of bullets, or he kills himself, or he faces the police for “suicide by cop,” or a courageous civilian charges him and brings him down. Since so many of these targets are “gun free zones,” they have no defenses – on purpose – and are therefore sitting ducks.

Mass killings are committed with all sorts of weapons nowadays – an arsonist’s fire, a shooter’s guns, a bomber’s explosives, a driver’s truck. Each can be used to kill or maim dozens or more.  Focusing on the weapon of choice is an easy call for someone scoring cheap political points, but it’s not practical as an effort to solve our challenge.

We should acknowledge that there will always be evil in the world, and that the societal breakdown that has left us with people who desire to murder is a much bigger, and more important, challenge than the question of how to address an attack. We need to fix our society, and return to the Judeo-Christian roots of Western Civilization. Our nation was designed for the honorable people of the Founding era, not for a godless nation of nihilists.

But there are things that we can do, to reduce the odds and improve our ability to respond when it does happen.

We can make it a bit easier to commit the criminally insane.

We can increase sentencing of violent criminals so that known offenders are off the streets and law enforcement has time to follow up on leads.

And we can rip up the “gun free zone” signs for good… arm our security guards when we can afford to, and encourage trained and willing teachers and administrators to go to school with a sidearm and a concealed carry permit.

There have always been killers in the world, and there always will be. But there are steps we can take to ensure that the killer gets caught or killed himself as soon as he claims his first victim, instead of waiting for him to run out of ammunition as we shamefully do today.

Copyright 2018 John F. Di Leo

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based transportation and trade compliance manager, actor and writer. His columns are regularly found in Illinois Review.  Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the IR URL and byline are included.


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  1. Mr. F. Di Leo,
    I agree with you wholeheartedly and have been posting similar thoughts during many of the previous “slaughters” when the far left pushes to take away guns.
    I would like to add two thoughts. I believe the ACLU has played a big part in creating such vulnerability in our schools. They took away the teachers ability to control and be in charge of the classroom in which they are teaching. Teachers are no longer able to discipline students who misbehave….it starts at the kindergarten level…..and students no longer have any respect for teachers. The principal and supertendard of the past who regularly visited classrooms and evaluated teachers now sit in offices and never see what is happening in classrooms.
    I call out the teachers unions for the denigration of teachers. Teachers used to dress as professionals and when you entered the classroom you knew who the teacher was. Now teachers dress like trash in jeans, tee shirts, old shoes and look unkempt. All this pushed by “teachers rights” by unions.
    I have taught high school in a very diverse, large high school that I classified as the little UN.
    We had students of every color, etnicity, and financial background. Some barely able to speak English to those elite of the country club enclave. No one misbehaved in my classroom. If a big football player ever tried to,talk back to me I had him up,against the wall…..I marched him to the principal, he was put in detention and when the coach asked me to,releaase him for football practice I said NO, I had full control of my classroom….I was 21 years old!
    I denied graduation for one young man who consistently mis behaved….the parents came in and pleaded….but this young man had been given several chances….he would not obey the rules of the school. HE DID NOT GRADUATE! I SAID NO AND I WAS SUPPORTED BY MR PRINCIPAL AND SUPERINTENDANT OF SCHOOLS.
    The year was 1956 through to 1958. At that point I was married and was unable to teach because I was pregnant….yes it was funny, you could not be married and teach if you were pregnant but I has some very pregnant unmarried students! ( they were not supposed to be there but they hid their condition with big clothes as long as they could!)
    Within the year I was teaching adult education to students who wanted to get their high school diploma or simply learn more for employment. I always had respect in the classroom and felt in complete control of my classroom.
    As my family grew and started to school I began to see change and it started with the ACLU representing parents against the schools….then teachers unions appeared. This was the death knell for professionalism in education.
    Administrators no longer had control over the teachers. Teachers no longer had control over their classrooms.
    I observed in my children’s classrooms as kids got up and wandered out into the hall to go to the bathroom or get a drink and I was puzzled. No one ever got out of their seat in my classroom without my permission…..this included adults!
    I slowly watched the educational system go into the dump. I remember a principal who played gold three days a week…..I petitioned and got him fired….but in looking back what did he have to do. He could no longer go into the classroom and evaluate a teacher and declare them incompetent, the union would have had him strung up!
    I can proudly say I taught at various levels for 30years…..but I NEVER EVER JOINED THE TEACHERS UNION. It destroyed the teaching profession.
    I add these items to your list because they were the precursors to classroom misbehavior, teaching incompetence, student defiance of authority…all part and parcel of what is happening in our schools today….in our society today! The students are a product of the home and the school as that is where they spend the vast majority of time.
    Discipline is lacking….along with love and joy of learning because a teacher has no control over the classroom environment and one person can ruin it for all.
    We are responsible for the next generation and the removal of guns will not make it better, not one tiny bit because we have a many headed snake here and every single head must be cut off. Let’s tell it like it is. I’m tired of the excuses….money, classrooms,…special equipment….all bs. The prime ingredient is competent trained and evaluated teachers in control of their classrooms. All they really have to have for learning to take place, some papers pencils, a blackboard….and teachers and administrators doing their jobs without interference from the ACKU AND TEACHERS UNIONS!