KEVIN LEININGER: Did the Florida massacre prove the need for more gun control — or self defense?

A memorial has sprung up outside the Florida high school where 17 people were killed earlier this month. (AP photo)
Kevin Leininger

To the hundreds of people who gathered outside the Allen County Courthouse Sunday, the answer apparently seems obvious: If they wave enough signs and make enough emotional demands, the movement will grow and politicians will have no choice but to enact the sort of gun control that will prevent massacres like the one at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day.

Almost simultaneously, however, about 7,000 people — a record — were attending the Florida Gun Show, Google searches for “buy a gun” hit an all-time high and Internet interest in National Rifle Association membership was reportedly growing. Perhaps that reaction merely anticipates the possibility of stricter gun laws, but the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School may also become a rallying cry for those who believe Americans should think twice before entrusting their personal safety to the government.

It’s easy to conclude authorities should have done more to prevent confessed killer Nikolas Cruz from killing 17 people: The Broward County Sheriff’s office had been told in November Cruz “could be a school shooter in the making” but apparently deputies failed even to write a report. A relative of Cruz had warned police they should “seize his weapons,” and two years earlier a deputy investigated a report Cruz planned to “shoot up the school.” The FBI had been alerted to Cruz at least twice, and sheriff’s deputies had been called to Cruz’ home at least 39 times since 2010. It’s a damning record, but one exacerbated by 20-20 hindsight. Government is not omniscient, nor should we want it to be.

On the day of the shooting, however, officers with the Broward County Sheriff’s Department were not asked to read minds or anticipate events; they were merely asked to respond as they had been trained and equipped to do — and they failed. School Resource Officer Scot Peterson was armed and knew a shooting was in progress but did nothing to intervene, according to Sheriff Scott Israel, who said Peterson’s response made him “sick to (his) stomach.”

As it turned out, three other armed Sheriff’s officers who responded that day also did nothing and were found hiding behind their cars when backup from the Coral Springs Police Department arrived. Israel himself then compounded the problem by praising his own leadership and distancing himself from Peterson, who resigned rather than face discipline.

“I gave him a gun. I gave him a badge. I gave him the training,” Israel said. “If he didn’t have the heart to go in, that’s not my responsibility.” That’s self-serving nonsense, of course, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott properly has called for an investigation of the law enforcement response to the shooting. Israel has said he will cooperate but will not resign.

Fortunately, the performance of Israel’s department is the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of the nation’s first responders do their jobs honorably, far too often sacrificing their owns lives so others might live. In this case, however, an armed security guard was on site even before the shooting began and failed to do his job. So, it appears, did some of the first officers who responded to calls for help. Even if authorities failed to anticipate and prevent Cruz’ actions, the resources were in place to minimize the carnage — and didn’t.

Even if background checks are beefed up and bump stocks and assault rifles such as the one Cruz used are banned, handguns and other weapons have been used in some of the country’s worst shootings. So does the Florida shooting argue for still more gun laws? Or does it remind Americans that they are ultimately responsible for their own self-defense, and that the Second Amendment must remain an invaluable ally in defense of that right?

We can and should have a healthy debate about sensible reforms, but the only rational argument for the elimination of firearms is an insistence that government is capable of protecting everybody, all the time. Such naivete invites disappointment, but it can also be dangerous. No one appreciates “gun-free zones” more than the bad guys.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at or call him at 461-8355.