Last Week's Tragedy in Parkland, Florida

February 23, 2018

I'd like to address last week’s tragedy in Parkland, Florida. This horrific act left 17 innocent Americans dead, a community devastated, and a nation mourning for all of those affected.

As we all struggle to deal with the emotions of such a senseless act, the facts of that day are emerging, and these facts point to a systemic failure of school security, local law enforcement, the FBI, and our nation’s mental health care system. Inexplicably, the school’s armed resource deputy and 3 other county deputies failed to act, despite hearing screams and shots fired. First responders were unaware that the school security camera system had a 20 minute delay. Local law enforcement received scores of calls and made more than 30 visits to the shooter’s residence, yet no action was taken. The FBI received several tips regarding threatening social media posts - posts that included the shooter’s real name and actual spelling - yet, failed to act. The shooter himself was, by virtually every account, a very troubled individual with a history of mental instability and of making threats to harm others. Yet, he fell through the cracks.

Some are calling for more gun control, but given what we know, such measures would not have prevented this tragedy - or the other mass shootings in recent years. So what can we do?

First, the FBI must reevaluate its procedures for pursuing threats and ensure that, going forward, they are taken seriously and acted upon expeditiously and thoroughly. On behalf of the Judiciary Committee (on which I serve), Chairman Bob Goodlatte contacted FBI Director Wray the morning following the shooting seeking answers on why the FBI did not aggressively pursue the threats and on what specific actions will be taken to ensure that future tips are treated seriously.

Second, law enforcement needs to reevaluate and update its response tactics for school shootings and take corrective actions to ensure that precious minutes are not wasted in the actual response procedures.

Third, we need to ensure that local law enforcement, parents, guardians, and school officials are empowered to intervene sooner rather than later when an individual is exhibiting threatening or unstable behavior.

Fourth, we need to strengthen the background check system for the purchase of firearms. Earlier this year, I voted for the “Fix NICS” policy - which passed the House - to provide much-needed support for federal, state, and local entities to ensure dangerous criminals and mentally-ill individuals are always included in the background check system used by gun sellers. Still, we need to do more by working with mental health professionals to appropriately identify those individuals with serious mental health issues who may not be institutionalized.

Fifth, school systems around the country must secure their facilities and invest in security appropriately. If we need to identify federal dollars to assist in these efforts, then we should do so.

And, we need to improve our mental health safety net so that individuals like the Florida shooter do not fall through the cracks. President Trump recently requested new investments for programs to ensure those with serious mental illness receive treatment as quickly as possible - as early detection and intervention are key to preventing tragedies. Additionally, the recent budget invests an additional $3 billion in addiction and mental health programs in both FY18 and FY19.

Once again, we are all trying to comprehend such an evil act and determine how to prevent it from ever happening again. While there are many opinions about how to move forward, I know that everyone has the same mission: to keep our children safe.


Karen C. Handel
Member of Congress