Early on Wednesday afternoon, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, had a fire drill, an eleventh-grader named Gabriella Figueroa told MSNBC’s Brian Williams. “Then we heard gunshots,” Figueroa said. “Then it went to code red. And then it was crazy.”
An individual with deadly intent was in the school building, holding an assault weapon that was designed for fighting wars. As Figueroa’s use of the term ‘code red’ indicated, such an event is no longer considered an aberration. All across the country, school boards drill their teachers and students in how to respond to such an emergency. Code yellow: turn cell phones to silent, return to the classroom, and follow the teacher’s instructions. Code red: find a secure area immediately, lock the door, close the blinds, turn off the lights, do not move.
This lockdown wasn’t a drill, of course. By the time it was over, seventeen people had been shot dead, and more than a dozen had been wounded. “Bodies were lying in the hallway,” another eyewitness told Fox News. “People were killed in the hallway.” Police later identified the suspected killer as Nikolas Cruz, a nineteen-year-old former student who had been expelled for discipline problems.
After Cruz fled the scene – he was arrested shortly after the shooting in neighboring Coral Springs – news helicopters captured footage of students walking and running from the school, some of them carrying flowers and cards. It was Valentine’s Day, after all. By that point, the authorities had secured the area around the school. There were heavily armed cops, police cars, bomb-squad trucks, and FBI vehicles. The mayor of Parkland, a former teacher named Beam Furr, told CNN, “It’s all being fairly well coördinated, and everyone is doing everything they can.”
But were they? On Twitter, President Donald Trump offered his “prayers and condolences to the families of the victims,” adding that “no child, teacher, or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.” Fox News interviewed Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior senator, who has an A plus rating from the National Rifle Association. “I hope people reserve judgment.... The facts of this are important,” Rubio said. As soon as the facts are clear, Rubio went on, “we can have a deeper conversation about why these things happen.” The forty-six-year-old Republican added, “It’s a terrible situation. It’s amazing the amount of carnage that one individual can carry out in such a short period of time.”
Yet some pertinent facts are already known. According to local police, Cruz was armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle – the same type of gun that Adam Lanza used to kill twenty-six pupils and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in December, 2012. Evidently, Rubio still isn’t aware of the power of such weapons, which fire bullets that can penetrate a steel helmet from a distance of five hundred yards. When fired from close range at civilians who aren’t wearing body armor, the bullets from an AR-15 don’t merely penetrate the human body – they tear it apart. It “looks like a grenade went off in there,” Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon at the University of Arizona, told Wired.
To spare the families of the victims – and the public at large – additional anguish, these sorts of details are often glossed over in the aftermath of mass shootings. But it’s surely long past time that we acknowledged these facts, and that we begin to more fully discuss the complicity of NRA – backed politicians like Rubio, and Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, in maintaining the environment that allows these tragedies to happen again and again and again.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘America’s Failure to Protect Its Children from School Shootings Is a National Disgrace.’