17 people were shot and killed in a Florida school, but Gov. Rick Scott says it's not time to talk about guns

Photo by Jeremy Reper
Less than 24 hours ago, 17 people were still alive.

In what seems like a different lifetime, students and teachers were celebrating Valentine's Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland with red balloons and hearts. At 2:40 p.m., they were getting ready to be dismissed – some would go home, others to lacrosse practice and the lucky ones would be spending romantic evenings with their dates.

Instead, minutes later, they were huddled together in dark classrooms, screaming and crying as bullets were fired off one after another by a 19-year-old former student reportedly armed with an AR-15 rifle. Less than 24 hours ago, those students and teachers escaped with their hands up, running past police, bloody hallways and the bodies of 17 people.

But according to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, it's not the time to talk about guns.

On Wednesday night, as law enforcement officials were still identifying the dead, Scott said the mass shooting was "pure evil." But when asked multiple times about when he would take a stand on gun regulations or how a teenager with a history of behavioral issues could purchase a semi-automatic weapon in Florida, Scott dodged specifics.

"My heart goes out to everybody impacted today," Scott said. "There's a time to continue to have these conversations about how through law enforcement, how through mental illness funding that we make sure that people are safe."

Scott is partially right. This isn't the time to talk about guns – because we should have done it yesterday. You could have had this conversation almost two years ago after a gunman massacred 49 people with a semi-automatic Sig Sauer MCX rifle at the gay nightclub Pulse. You could have had those conversations after listening to the wails of grieving families in Orlando or after you attended victims' funerals. If mass shootings in Newton, San Bernardino or Virginia Tech (and the list goes on) didn't spur you to action, then at least the attack at Pulse should have.

But it didn't. In fact, after Pulse, you stood in Orlando days after the mass shooting and told CNN, "Let’s remember, the Second Amendment has been around for over 200 years. That’s not what killed innocent people; evil killed innocent people."
Scott, who's received an A+ rating from the NRA, has offered empty thoughts and prayers for Orlando, for the five people killed in a mass shooting last year at a Fort Lauderdale airport, and will probably continue to offer them as more people are gunned down in this state. The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature isn't any better – after Pulse, GOP lawmakers fought to expand concealed carry to airports, schools, legislative meetings and churches. Florida Democrats have filed bills to ban assault weapons, expand background checks and prohibit high-capacity magazines – but none of their measures have had a day in committee.

And while the gross inadequacy continues in Tallahassee, Pulse survivors are still having surgeries to deal with the massive trauma left by multiple gunshot wounds. Some even live with bullet fragments that will stay inside them permanently.

Scott appeared at another news conference Thursday morning where he said he would work with Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron to improve school safety and make sure people with mental illnesses don't get guns.

"We cannot lose another child in this country because of violence in our schools," Scott said. "We need to have a real conversation about public safety and protecting schools in our state. … Florida’s parents need to be able to wake up every morning and know their children are going to a safe school. We have an opportunity right now during the ongoing legislative session to have this important conversation."

The governor's proposal rings hollow, though – he and the state Legislature have consistently slashed funding for mental health and substance abuse programs over the years. Blaming gun violence solely on people who are mentally ill not only ignores the patterns of intimate partner violence that have led to deaths but also disregards a gun culture that makes it easy for anyone to purchase a weapon.

More than 33,000 people die in firearm-related deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We could probably know more about the patterns following these fatalities if we could study them, but for 22 years, Congress has kept in place a ban on federal gun violence research.

While Floridians wait endlessly for Scott and other lawmakers to find at least one courageous cell in their bodies to do anything to stem the tide of gun violence, we remain vulnerable to being gunned down anywhere – in our schools, nightclubs, churches or workplaces.

How long will it take us to forget the names of the victims who were slaughtered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? And how long will it take us to move on to the next bloodbath?

Editor's note: This story has been updated with Gov. Scott's most recent comments.

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