- Geraldine Thompsonformer ?Florida Democratic state senator. She represented the Orlando district where the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre took place.
In Parkland, Florida, 17 people died Wednesday in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. The massacre at the Stoneman Douglas High School was the 18th school shooting this year, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. This means there has been a school shooting on average every 60 hours so far this year. Police have identified the gunman as a 19-year-old former pupil named Nikolas Cruz. He was carrying an AR-15 with multiple magazines of ammunition. In addition to the 17 dead, 15 people were injured. We speak to Geraldine Thompson, a former Florida Democratic state senator. She represented the Orlando district where the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre took place.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show in Florida, where 17 people died Wednesday in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. The massacre at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was the 18th school shooting this year, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. This means there have been a school shooting on average every 60 hours so far this year.
AMY GOODMAN: Police have identified the gunman as a 19-year-old former student named Nikolas Cruz. He was carrying an AR-15 with multiple magazines of ammunition. In addition to the 17 dead, 15 people were injured. Students described the terror of being inside the school during the shooting.
STUDENT 1: I was in the classroom, and all I heard was the gunshots. And then, when we went outside and the police cleared us for us to go outside, I see dead bodies. … We locked the door. We turned off the lights. And then we waited ’til the police said it was clear for us to leave.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Once the gunman was captured, students spoke to reporters outside the school.
STUDENT 2: Well, we heard gunshots. We heard people like knocking on the door, saying they were police, but I guess they weren’t. They were trying to like trick us to come out. The first ones I heard, I mean, they were like nonstop, like two big shots. And then everyone just panicked, was running everywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: Police have identified the gunman as a 19-year-old former student named Nikolas Cruz, who been expelled from the high school. Cruz was arrested a few miles away from the scene of the shooting. His classmates described him as a loner and a former member of Junior ROTC who was obsessed with guns. Police say his social media profile showed “very, very disturbing” content, including many photos of his weapons arsenal. Someone using the name Nikolas Cruz also posted threatened SOTs on YouTube and other sites, including “I want to shoot people with my AR-15” and “I’m going to kill law enforcement one day. They go after the good people.” Cruz’s adoptive father died when he was young. His adopted mother just died in November of the flu, that became pneumonia.
The New York Times reports, since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, more than 400 people have been killed. The shooting comes just days after President Trump released his budget, which proposes cutting millions of dollars from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
We’re joined now by two guests: Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the co-author of Guns, Democracy, and the Insurrectionist Idea, and Geraldine Thompson is a former Florida Democratic state senator. She represented the Orlando district where the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre took place.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Geraldine Thompson, let’s begin with you. You’re not far from where this high school shooting took place, right near Fort Lauderdale, which, by the way, experienced another shooting, where five people were killed, just a year ago at the Fort Lauderdale airport. But now, at this school, the horror of 17 people being killed—three outside the school, 12 inside the school and then two who were injured who have since died. This must bring back horrific memories for you from Pulse in 2016, the nightclub, where Omar Mateen gunned down 49 people in the club and injured more than 50 others. Yet, what has been done? What are the laws in Florida? Please share your response.
GERALDINE THOMPSON: Well, unfortunately, nothing has happened since the Pulse nightclub shooting. And I said at that time, and I want to repeat today, that we have got to tighten our laws with regard to gun ownership in this country. I see no reason why a private individual needs a military-type weapon and a magazine of ammunition with enough rounds to kill hundreds of people. So we have got to tighten up gun—who gets guns, who has access to guns in this country.
And we have seen inactivity on the part of Congress. We have seen dysfunction on the part of Congress. And I think the state legislatures need to assert their power to require a constitutional convention for the purpose of amending the United States Constitution to require term limits for members of Congress. You have careerists in Congress. You have people who take ownership of the position. They don’t come back to the communities that elected them. And so there is a disconnect with regard to what the people want. And I think the only way to address this is through term limits for members of Congress. And the founders anticipated that there might be a time when common people wanted to amend the Constitution and Congress refused to act. So, under Article 5 of the United States Constitution, there is a provision that allows state legislatures to petition Congress for a convention. And if 34, which would be two-thirds of the states in the United States—if 34 states ask for this constitutional convention, then Congress would be compelled to call such a convention.
And I think that the states need to take back the power, because, to answer your question, we have seen nothing happen since the Pulse nightclub shooting here in Orlando. And that was the district that I represented. And you saw the trauma to the first responders, to the physicians, just as you see the trauma today. You have 17 people who were killed, but you have many more people who were traumatized, because teachers don’t sign up to go into war zones. They are not equipped to deal with the kind of weapon that was used in this massacre yesterday. And you have students who are traumatized. And we have counselors at schools, but those counselors are overburdened with paperwork with regard to standardized testing. They’ve got to keep a record of all of that, attendance. So they don’t really function in the sense that they can sit down and talk with students about what’s going on with them. And I know that, in many instances, there are counselors, special counselors, that are brought in with regard to how to handle grief and how to handle loss.
But this should not be a common occurrence in our country. And we see it happening—as you said, the number, just since 2018, is just unfathomable, that we should see this happening in this country because of inactivity, because of dysfunction on the part of Congress.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to go to comments that Florida Governor Rick Scott made last night, Wednesday night, speaking at a press conference. He said the shooting was, quote, “pure evil.”
GOV. RICK SCOTT: How could this ever happen in this country? How could this happen in this state? This is a state that is focused on keeping all of our children safe. And you come to the conclusion, this is just absolutely pure evil. This state does not tolerate violence. We have law enforcement that will always show up to defend our safety.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Governor Rick Scott speaking last night. He also refused to be drawn into a discussion about gun control, when he was asked by a reporter if stricter legislation was needed.
GOV. RICK SCOTT: My heart goes out to everybody impacted today. You know, all of us can internalize this, if it would happen to their family. You know, all of us want to live and have everybody live in a safe community. And there’s a time to continue to have these conversations about how, through law enforcement, how, through mental illness funding, that we make sure people are safe. And we’ll continue to do that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Governor Rick Scott. Geraldine Thompson, can you respond to what he and other legislators in Florida and politicians have said?
GERALDINE THOMPSON: Well, certainly there are evil people in our society, and there are mentally disturbed people in our society. And when you combine a mental instability and you combine evil with ready access to guns, that’s when it becomes lethal. So, I think we need to put the focus on what we do about restricting access to guns, when we know that there are elements in our society, when they have a weapon, go on a rampage and harm and kill other individuals.
After the Pulse nightclub shooting, I asked Governor Rick Scott if we could talk about a special session, convening a special session of the Florida Legislature, to talk about reform. And at that time, he said that the issue was ISIS, and it was not about guns, it was about ISIS. And so, my question was: Was Sandy Hook about ISIS? Was Charleston, South Carolina, about ISIS? We have home-grown terrorists in the United States of America. And certainly, while ISIS is a threat, we have got to also focus on what happens here in this country. And we saw in Oklahoma the bombing of the Federal Building there. That was a home-grown terrorist.
So we can’t kind of deflect the focus away from what the real problem is. And that is that we have people who can buy guns without background checks. If the gun is bought at a gun show, if it’s bought from a personal individual, then they don’t have to go through the background checks. And there should be universal background checks. And the people have to take the power to require their leaders—it’s about the governed rather than those who govern. And the people who are governed are saying, “We want responsible gun ownership in the United States of America.” And—
AMY GOODMAN: Geraldine Thompson, I remember, right after the Pulse shooting, there was this news conference. It was very dramatic, and the governor spoke, among others. And as they all left the podium, you got up. They left, and you got up, and you said, “We are going to have very serious discussion about reform,” you said, about the governor and you. “How do guns come into hands of violent and unstable people? How is it that assault weapons that are used in military operations get into the hands of a single individual? How is it that the magazines of weapons and bullets that are usually used in military combat come into our community?” I think he had walked off by then.
But Governor Scott, who’s expressing his horror yesterday, is also fighting an almost unanimous decision by a Florida court. A federal appeals court last year said doctors in Florida must be allowed to discuss guns with their patients, striking down portions of a Florida law that restricts what physicians can say to patients about firearm ownership. It was a 10-to-1 decision, the full panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, finding the law known as the Privacy of Firearm Owners Act violates the First Amendment rights of doctors. The majority decision said Florida does not have carte blanche to restrict the speech of doctors and medical professionals on a certain subject without satisfying the demands of heightened security—of heightened scrutiny—again, the court striking down Florida’s law barring doctors from discussing guns with patients. Rick Scott is on the other side of that.
GERALDINE THOMPSON: We called that law “Glocks versus docs.” And while a doctor can ask a patient if he or she has a swimming pool, to safeguard children who might be in the home, a doctor was prohibited from asking if that person had a gun. And certainly, doctors have to be able to provide counseling, to provide treatment, whatever is needed, in the context of what’s going on in that person’s life.
And Governor Rick Scott wanted to require people who receive food stamps or other public assistance to take drug tests. And that was also struck down by the court. So, he’s had a lot of positions that have been unconstitutional, and this is another example of that.
And he is not addressing at all, as he refused to address after the Pulse nightclub shooting, what are we going to do about restricting gun ownership and making sure that there is responsible gun ownership in the state of Florida and in the United States.
And now he wants to go to the Senate of the United States, and we’ve already seen what he’s done here in Florida. And as I mentioned, there are no term limits for members of the Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives. We have term limits for the state House, for the state Senate in Florida, and the president of the United States has term limits. That individual can serve two 4-year terms only. But there are no term limits, so you have people who take ownership of the position, and it’s about self-perpetuation, it’s about careerism. And the special interests fund their campaigns year after year, so that, as the incumbent, there’s not a level playing field for an individual who would challenge them. And so—
AMY GOODMAN: Geraldine Thompson, we’re going to have to leave it there, but I want to thank you very much for being with us, former Florida Democratic state senator, who was state senator during the Pulse shooting, the horrific shooting at the nightclub in June of 2016, where 49 people were killed, as we talk, not even two years later, about yet another horrific shooting, this one at a high school. Eighteen school shootings since the beginning of this year, not even two months ago.
When we come back, Josh Horwitz joins us, of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Stay with us.