The CNN town hall earlier this month on gun control was disturbing. There is no other way to describe the rhetoric I heard during the broadcast that kept harping on these points:
- People with mental illnesses should be punished.
- We need to give police even more power.
- The only way to protect school children is to militarize schools.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel kept calling throughout the night for stricter mental health laws, including Florida’s Baker Act. Currently, the Baker Act allows for the state to give involuntary psychiatric examinations to those suspected of suffering from mental illness while an individual is in temporary detention.
Under the act, an individual does not need to be charged or even suspected of committing a crime. Instead, a court has to declare that the person is “mentally ill and, because of the mental illness he/she has refused voluntary placement for treatment or is unable to determine whether placement is necessary; (2) he/she is incapable of living alone or with help, and without treatment is likely to suffer from neglect or refuse to care for him/herself, or there is a substantial likelihood in the near future that he/she will inflict serious bodily harm on him/herself/others as evidenced by recent behavior; and (3) all less restrictive treatment alternatives are not appropriate.”
The act has come under fire from civil liberty advocates in the past, who have argued against the government’s ability to hold an individual against their will without any crime being committed. Yet now Sheriff Israel is calling on lawmakers to empower his deputies with the power to detain people through the act “if they see something on social media, if they see graphic pictures of rifles and blood and gore and guns and bombs, if they see something, horrific language, if they see a person talking about ‘I want to grow up to be a serial killer.’ ”
This would constitute a broad overreach against the constitutional liberties of Americans when overall, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent 1 percent of all gun homicides each year. There simply is no evidence to excuse giving police departments such power, which could easily be abused.
The militarization of our schools was a recurring theme throughout the townhall. In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, Sheriff Israel ordered his deputies to begin policing inside schools while carrying AR-15s. Camila Rojas, a Broward County high school student, told me about her experience the first day after this practice was enacted.
“Today, the cop designated to my school walked into our classrooms carrying her AR15, telling students to get used to her carrying this gun on her every day, every hour, and that we don’t have the ‘right’ to feel scared of her or the gun. Many of my classmates are still traumatized from the events that happened only a week ago, many lost friends and family to that gun. But this cop is just walking into class with it like it is nothing and telling us we don’t have the right to feel attacked!”
Putting heavily armed police in school halls is simply not the answer to stopping mass shootings, and not only because it terrorizes students. According to a 2008 RAND Corporation study evaluating the New York Police Department’s firearm training, between 1998 and 2006, the average hit rate during gunfights was 18 percent. When facing returning fire, police officers hit targets at a rate of 30 percent. The absurd rationale presented with the proposal of arming teachers and placing heavily armed deputies in schools is “don’t worry, we will protect your children by having shootouts in schools.”
It is easy to pick on craven politicians such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who embarrassed himself throughout the night by evading questions, speaking only in platitudes, and offering no actual policy commitments. Yet our society needs to deeply reflect on whether the answer to these mass shootings is really the further militarization of our society.