The hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, an AR-15 rifle, and now, 17 counts of premeditated murder — these are the components of the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook five years ago.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, confessed to police that he “began shooting students he saw in the hallways,” according to an arrest report released Feb. 15.
The Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, has renewed a nationwide discussion on gun control and its efficiency. Survivors of the Parkland shooting are calling on Congress and President Trump to act and pass meaningful gun reform. Several protests and marches have already been staged since the shooting and more are scheduled.
The Women’s March organization has also called for a national school walkout on March 14.
“We are not safe at school. We are not safe in our cities and towns,” the Women’s March organization said in a statement. “Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that address the public health crisis of gun violence.”
The Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit organization, collects and documents every gun-related incident in the Unites States in the years since Sandy Hook. The organization defines an incident as anything from a killing to a brandishing with a weapon. There have been 2,618 school and gun-related incidents, 151 deaths and 353 injuries from Feb. 16, 2014, to Feb. 16, 2018, in the U.S.
South Carolina topped the charts at 22.78 school incidents per 1 million people. Arizona, with 28 incidents in the past four years, had as few as 4.04 incidents per 1 million people, ranking number 47 in the nation.
But Arizona is somewhat of an exception. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, whose namesake is based on Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was a near-fatal victim of gun violence, ranks states on their gun control laws. There is a noticeable correlation between the rate of a state’s school- and gun-related incidents and its grade letter.
According to the organization’s 2016 scorecard, Arizona ranks 47 in the nation for its gun control, scoring an “F.” California ranked the highest with an “A.”
The top five states with the highest number of shooting incidents were South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky and Alabama. All five received an “F” from the Giffords Law Center for their gun control. The five states with the lowest number of shooting incidents were Hawaii, New Jersey, California, New York and Maine. These states received an A-, A-, A, A- and F, respectively.
These findings reflect a common feeling toward U.S. law: Gun control does reduce incidents, even in school scenarios.
“Every single person up here today, all these people, should be at home grieving, but instead we are up here, standing together because if all our government and president can do is send ‘thoughts and prayers,’ then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see,” said Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, in a televised speech. “The guns have changed, and the laws have not.”
Ninety-six of the 2,618 school- and gun-related incidents over the past four years were deadly, or 3.6 percent of the incidences.
Flagstaff and NAU added no small contributors to Arizona’s statistics. Steven Jones, the former NAU student, who killed one person and injured three others in October 2015. The count of victims in the Jones shooting account for four out of nine of the injured and killed individuals in Arizona school incidents in the past four years. In terms of number of victims, the shooting was in the top 16 for school and gun-related incidents in the U.S. in the past four years.
However, Jones’ gun was obtained and stored legally, continuing to raise questions about Arizona gun control law.
“In 2016, Arizona weakened its gun laws by enacting laws prohibiting schools from restricting guns on public rights of way and imposing liability against officials who violate preemption. The state has little in the way of common sense gun policy and a correspondingly high gun death rate,” according to The Giffords Law Center.
The center recommends requiring background checks on all gun sales, allowing local governments to pass their own gun laws and impose a waiting period as ways to improve the state’s gun control.
But schools continue to be the target of mass shootings.
Heather Newell is the principal at the Sheridan Terrace Elementary School, a part of Norwin School District in Pennsylvania.
“I’m very, very conscious of walking out to my car late in the evening when I’ve been working all day dealing with a situation that a parent doesn’t appreciate,” said Newell. “Who’s going to be by my car? Are these lights on in the parking lot? I think about that a lot. I think about our doors and our security. Just in the past five years, I find myself thinking about it a lot.”
Newell became principal of her school around the time of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, in which 20 children and six adults were shot inside the elementary school. The shooter also killed his mother at their home.
Newell has all the skills needed to be successful principal. Staff management, a creative and caring mind, and of course, police and military training.
Newell’s school partners with a local organization to, every other year, have active-shooter training for her staff and faculty. With the adults trained, students in fourth grade and higher are trained to use their desks to barricade doors instead of the decade-old drills of hiding under desks with the lights out — or the duck-and-cover drills of the 1950s and 1960s.
“In our building, even though we act as principal, and secretary, and custodian and head teacher, whatever our roles are, during a crisis situation we have been trained to then assume these other roles,” Newell said. “We have been trained to know what to do.”
Norwin School District uses the ALICE response system to train its individuals: alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. This is a far cry, Newell said, from the system put in place a decade ago that had everyone hiding in classrooms hoping for the “bad guy” to pass.
Even school architecture has adapted to accommodate the seemingly new normal of school shootings. The main office in schools used to be in the center of the school, but this has changed, putting the main office at the front of the building to help stop any potential threats from entering.
Cameras have also been installed in not just high schools, but middle and elementary schools as well.
“For the last six years, I’ve been at the elementary level, so we don’t worry as much about kids as certainly the secondary folk do,” Newell said. “I think they actually worry more about kids causing terror than maybe adults.”
As of Feb. 20, six days since the Parkland shooting, there have been 24 school- and gun-related incidents in the U.S., four of them in Arizona. Two students in the Phoenix-metro area and one from western Arizona were arrested and held for bringing guns to campus. All three happened since Parkland, and all three firearms were stored in the students’ vehicles. The firearms were not discharged, and one student said he carried it for personal protection, but did not have issues with anyone at school, according to The Arizona Republic. Congress has proposed no gun control legislation since the Parkland shooting, and has yet to vote on the proposed ban on bump stocks. But on Feb. 20, under public pressure after the Florida shooting, Trump directed the U.S. Justice Department to ban gun modifications, like bump stocks used in the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 in October 2017.