Op-Ed by Ralph Massullo |  Citrus County Chronicle

As a parent of four children, I have received phone calls that have literally brought me to my knees regarding unfortunate incidences in their lives, but I could not even begin to imagine what a parent might think or experience if they received a call informing them that their child was shot and killed at school. Tragically, on Valentine’s Day 2018, a day that usually represents love in America, that is exactly what happened to 17 families of children and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County Florida. Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who was a former expelled student, entered the building, pulled a fire alarm and proceeded to indiscriminately shoot and kill 17 people and wound several others. That community, our state and nation are asking how does this happen and how can we better protect those innocent people in our schools, our churches, and where ever else these evil acts of violence are perpetrated going forward?

Many of us struggle to find a simple solution that might assuage our outrage and pain. We often hear calls for “gun control” that may seem appropriate; however, the problem is more complicated and requires a more multi-centric approach if we are going to improve the safety of our citizens.

First, we need to look at some practical measures that will limit and discourage future attacks. We need to reduce or eliminate “gun free zones” that attract these cowards to where they know there won’t be people ready to defend themselves. Let’s start with our schools and our churches with schools associated with them. We need to harden our school facilities and better control access and egress. We need more school resource officers and better trained and armed security guards.

One of my fellow legislators and I were discussing how we protect our money at our banks better than we protect our children. That needs to change. We need to form a work group of stake holders to determine if we need metal detectors in our schools and whether our teachers should be allowed to carry weapons. This will require some increase in expenditures. Florida has wisely spent our tax dollars and our state has a reasonable surplus that might be able to help finance some initiatives to make our schools safer.

We also need to better understand what motivates these sick, evil individuals. We need to recognize, and it’s sad to say, that this is a relatively new phenomena in our society and our culture is somewhat responsible. The obsession we have with social media and our exploding technology coupled with our lack of personal relationships with our parents, families, and friends has created a void in our being that de-humanizes us to some extent.

Mental illness is complicated. It can range from a minor personality disorder that may be developmental or innate to major psychosis where there is no relation in thought or action to reality. As we become less connected personally as a society there is a danger of addiction, particularly in the young, to the false premise of ideal life presented through our social media. When reality doesn’t match that false image a person desires, especially those who may have other mental issues, they can easily feel worthless and defeated and become depressed, resentful, and angry. We need to better train ourselves to recognize these individuals and alert the authorities of what they are saying and doing. In the case of Nikolas Cruz, the FBI was notified of his stated intent to be a school shooter, but it wasn’t followed up appropriately. That is unacceptable given the consequences and should be thoroughly investigated, but we also need to strengthen our laws that will empower law enforcement to better intervene when such individuals are identified.

I am and have always been a strong supporter of our Constitution, particularly the first amendment (freedom of speech) and the second amendment (the right to bear arms). However, I have always said that our “rights” come with responsibilities. If people show themselves, either through their own admonition or some professional evaluation, to have intent to use those rights to harm others, they must forfeit them for their own protection and the protection of our society. We have laws that preclude some criminals (felons) from owning guns and we have laws to preclude individuals who are involuntarily baker acted to purchase guns.

We also need to expand those preclusions to individuals like Mr. Cruz who admit and/or intend to wanting to do harm to others that are evaluated by law enforcement and/or some appropriate mental health professional to be credible in that threat. Yes, that does impinge on personal freedoms, but I believe our founders never intended our freedoms to be without some reasonable personal responsibilities. Our laws need to keep up with our 21st century society.

We also need to put more resources into mental health. The Florida legislature has proposed to add more money for mental health even before this horrible event, but throwing money at a problem is never a good solution without a plan of action. We need to determine where best to apply our resources where they will have the maximum benefit. I believe we need to better educate our youth and those take care of them; parents, teachers, etc., to better recognize the dangers of technology and limit its use in our children. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, creator of Iphones would not let a child use social media. Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, won’t let her own kids use social media and believe it’s destroying our society. Sean Parker, creator of Napster and initial Facebook investor said Facebook was designed to be addictive. Even Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and creator, in an open letter to his daughter said she should spend more time outside and not try to grow up too fast. Can we not also take back some of the responsibility as parents and leader and limit our children’s use of social media and technology that is in many ways ruining them? And I won’t mention the content of many television shows, movies, and video games, but they are also part of the problems we are seeing in our society today.

If we want a better world, a safer world, a world where we truly are more tolerant of each other’s difference and perhaps even care to help each other when we recognize needs, we all need to work together and it will not be easy to reverse what is an alluring trend of de-personalization in our society, but it is the task before us. We cannot change what happened in Broward County on Feb. 14, but hopefully we can prevent some of those calls that none of us could imagine receiving.

Ralph Massullo, MD is a State Representative in the Florida Legislature representing District 34. He has degrees in Industrial Engineering and Medicine. He interned in Psychiatry and Medicine and completed a residency and fellowships in Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.

Article last accessed here on March 2, 2018