The more we learn about the background and history of the Florida school shooter, the more disturbing the picture becomes, raising additional questions about whether or not it would have been possible to prevent the attack. We already heard that the police had been to the shooter’s home on 39 different occasions over a seven year period, though how many of those directly involved the boy is unclear.
Now, however, another wrinkle in the story has cropped up. Business Insider reports that Florida Social Services was investigating that family’s home back in 2016 and a caseworker had conducted a two month investigation into “disturbing” reports. Unfortunately, the case was eventually closed after it was concluded that the would-be shooter presented a very low risk.
Florida’s state social services agency had previously investigated Nikolas Cruz, long before he set foot on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday and allegedly gunned down 17 people.
The Florida Department of Children and Families opened a file on Cruz in 2016 after being alerted to his Snapchat posts showing him cutting his arms and saying he wanted to buy a gun, according to a state report first obtained by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Agency investigators visited Cruz at his home and questioned him, ultimately identifying him as a “vulnerable adult due to mental illness” including depression, autism, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which he was medicated for.
So they clearly saw that the boy was troubled and potentially vulnerable or even dangerous. But the mother provided an explanation, saying that he’d recently broken up with his girlfriend and was upset. In finding that the “final level of risk is low,” the investigator cited that the boy was in counseling, under the care of his mother and taking medication for ADHD.
Knowing what we know now it’s easy to ask how they could possibly have missed the signals. But is that really fair? Up to that point, the boy hadn’t actually done anything serious enough to say that he was more than just another disturbed kid from a bad home. He was showing all the signs, but a lot of young people are equally disturbing and don’t go on to do what he did. If he was actually in therapy, taking medication and had a parent watching over him, what was the case worker’s justification for some harsher remedy?
This is all one more layer in the question of what, if anything, could have been done. In order to prevent him from buying any firearms, he would have had to have either established a more serious criminal record or been adjudicated as mentally unbalanced in court. Neither of those things happened and the latter would have been a tough slog in the courts if the mother objected. Of course, once he’d already passed a background check and legally purchased his firearms prior to the tips to the FBI, taking the guns away would have required an even more difficult claim before a judge.
That last question puts us back on the slippery slope of allowing the government more of a hand in removing people from the “approved list” of who does or doesn’t qualify for Second Amendment rights. In New York, the SAFE Act was passed in 2013 and it allows any health care worker, doctor or even therapist to drop a dime on one of their patients and have the state revoke their Second Amendment rights without any chance for the patient to object in court. This led to more than 34,500 citizens being put on “the list” in the first year alone and it’s only grown from there. Some had done nothing more than seek help for depression or anxiety.
If the ball was dropped anywhere on this one, I suppose it was the fault of the FBI. But as I said when we learned of the tips they received, they get a flood of those all the time. Yes, it’s their job to never get it wrong, but you can also see how it could happen. If anyone cares to suggest a new law which would have stopped this specific case which is constitutional and could actually be passed, I’m happy to listen. But I certainly can’t think of one off the top of my head.