It has been a little more than a week since the horrific shooting in Parkland, FL and as more becomes known about what lead up to that shooting, it is proving itself to be a tragically perfect example of government’s total failure, in fact its inability to keep people safe. Getting beyond the mistakes that were made by multiple agencies on many levels, getting beyond the cowardice of one or more responding cops, we need to look at another aspect of this horrible incident. Since so many people from students to school administrators, to the Sheriff of Broward County, all the way up to lawmakers on the federal level are screaming for more gun control, let’s take a close look at the effect that existing gun policies played in this incident.
Since Sheriff Scott Israel has seen fit to very publicly scream for gun control himself, and done so in the most unprofessional manner I can imagine, ripping into people who disagree with his point of view like an emotional teenager, all on national television, so I’ll start with him. Broward County Sheriff’s Office is a very large Sheriff’s department with, according to their website, more than 5,800 employees (includes sworn and non-sworn). Their annual budget is $730M. That is a very big local department by almost any standard.
Would it surprise you to find out that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office does not issue rifles to their patrol cops? It sure as hell surprised me! What year is this? In this day and age, it is practically criminal to not supply your street cops with a rifle. (Broward deputies can buy their own rifle if they desire, but the department does not issue them.)
I thought the North Hollywood Bank Robbery in 1997 taught us all that cops needed long guns? I would think that all of the recent mass shooting incidents that our news media sees fit to talk about 24/7 for weeks on end would have taught us all that. I would think that all of the changes in training and tactics for law enforcement over the last 20+ years would have taught us all that. But apparently none of that got through to Scott Israel, since he refuses to issue rifles to his street cops.
S.W.A.T teams and special investigations teams do get rifles but the overwhelming majority of the patrol officers in the 17 districts are not issued rifles.
Now, before anyone jumps up and claims I have no idea what is involved in providing rifles to an entire department, let me assure you I do. I happen to work for a large agency, although not as large as Broward County, and I have worked in an administrative position on my department where my job was providing equipment for all of our patrol deputies. I understand perfectly the difficulties in providing equipment for a large agency. And yes, it is a much different beast than providing tools for a smaller agency. Buying 10 of something is much different than buying 500, or 1,000 of the same thing. I understand perfectly that there is a significant cost in trying to put a rifle in every patrol officer’s hands, but not in this case. The Broward County Sheriff could get all the rifles they want from the Federal 1033 program 100% free. Zero, nada, nothing. Instead the man in charge, the man with whom the buck stops, Sheriff Scott Israel chose not to put rifles in the hands of his deputies, but why?
There is only one reason that can explain why Sheriff Israel would make the conscious decision to not issue rifles to his troops, and that is because Israel allowed his personal anti-gun agenda to cloud his judgement. His personal gun control ideals influenced how he equipped his cops, and those ideals kept the necessary tools out of the hands of the men and women who most desperately needed those tools last week.
Disturbingly, Sheriff Israel is not the only policy maker who allowed his feelings about guns to cloud his judgement. The school administration is also to blame. If you doubt a school administration would allow their personal opinions about firearms to influence their policy making, I have some bad news for you, and a bridge to sell you.
I spoke with a friend who works for one of the local agencies there in Florida and asked about why the school cops did not have rifles. Turns out, the school administrators and school board actively prevented the law enforcement officers who are assigned to the schools from having a rifle on campus. The local agencies approached the schools about placing gun safes in the school cop’s office, in which the cop could secure his rifle from his car, if he even had one, so it would be near him in the event of an emergency. The school district administration flat out refused to allow that. You know, because a cop carrying a rifle into an office and locking it up is super ultra mega scary and we cannot have high school kids seeing a cop carrying a long gun, or something like that.
So what that policy means in the real world is that the school cop responding to an incident on campus is required to assess the situation and determine if a rifle is needed, and make a choice on limited information: go to the scene or to my car and get my rifle. Most times that would mean going to the scene sans long gun, evaluating the situation and if a rifle is needed, returning to your car to get it, rather than just taking it from the office with you initially. How on Earth does that make sense to anyone? If schools had a firefighter located on campus, would they prevent them from having a fire extinguisher in their office?
Lastly, the delusional myth that calling anything a “gun free zone” somehow protects anyone is beyond me. How does anyone in their right mind think that putting a sign up is going to stop someone from doing something that they want to do, especially if what that person wants to do is already illegal? Do speed limit signs prevent speeding, anywhere, ever? Rather than declaring a location a “gun free zone,” why not instead enact laws that simultaneously, harshly punish people who illegally bring a gun onto a school campus, but that also allow people who have gone to all the trouble to obtain a concealed carry permit to have their firearm, including teachers and other school personnel if they so desire. Nationally, concealed carry license holders are the single most law abiding group of people there is, even more law abiding than law enforcement. Why would you intentionally prevent potential help from having the single most needed tool in a crisis situation where every second counts, and every second means another life lost? I cannot fathom the amount of delusion and denial that is necessary to not grasp this simple fact.
It is clear to me as a career cop that two factors combined together which allowed these horrible policies to be created. The first factor is an irrational dislike of firearms and the second is denial. The only way to explain a Sheriff refusing to give his patrol cops free rifles is his extreme anti-gun agenda, which he has espoused nearly non-stop since this incident. The only way to explain a school not wanting officers to have long guns available on campus is their dislike and/or fear of firearms. The other factor, denial, is also clear to anyone with law enforcement experience. These administrators, both the Sheriff and the school, were in denial that an incident like this tragic shooting could ever happen. It is clear from the policies they put in place. If they had faced the sad reality that something like this could happen, they would have issued the proper tools and would have established policies that helped first responders, not hindered them.
Sadly, this incident is chock full of screw ups, balls dropped, bad decision making, bad policy, and sadly, one or more cowardly cops who failed to do what we took an oath to do. There is much to be learned from this shooting. Two of the biggest takeaways in my opinion are 1) policies derived from anti-gun opinions do nothing to keep anyone safe, and 2) if you are counting on government to keep you safe, as much as the vast majority of cops really do try, you are betting on the wrong horse.
Matt is a full time Deputy Sheriff that has been on the job since 1996. During his time as a LEO, he’s attended countless training classes and is a court recognized firearms expert.