How do we stop mass shootings? That’s the question we ask every time one of these tragedies occurs in a grand scale in the United States, and the question on everyone’s mind after the Valentine’s Day shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where a 19-year-old former student armed with an AR-15 shot and killed 17 and injured 14 more, both students and adults. Details are still unfolding days later.

In the wake of this latest tragedy, some lawmakers have called for more gun control while others have talked about mental illness. I don’t need to tell you which side called for which solution.


But the fact is, these shootings keep happening and Congress has done very little to address either. Remember following the Las Vegas massacre at a country music concert back in October, when there seemed to be bipartisan agreement that stronger laws were needed regarding bump stocks — which the killer used to essentially turn his semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic weapon? Four-and-a-half months later, Congress has yet to take any sort of action. (Maryland Democrats introduced legislation earlier this month to ban “rapid fire trigger activators” like bump stocks and trigger cranks in the state.)

After a gunman shot up a church in Texas in November, Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican proposed the “Fix NICS” bill, which would hold government agencies accountable to uploading relevant information into the nation’s background check system. It’s gone nowhere three months later.

These are modest proposals to say the least, yet inaction speaks volumes.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s shooting, President Donald Trump called for the country to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” but didn’t offer specifics. However, if mental health is truly the underlying issue behind gun violence and mass shootings, why aren’t the GOP lawmakers who point the finger in that direction doing more to address it? Health-care reforms proposed by Trump and other conservatives in Washington would’ve peeled back coverage for a number of individuals seeking treatment for mental health issues.

Ironically, in February of last year — roughly the same time Nikolas Cruz legally purchased the AR-15 he used to carry out Wednesday’s attack — Trump signed a House Joint Resolution that repealed an Obama-era law that ordered the Social Security Administration enter anyone too mentally ill to handle their own disability benefits into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System; the database used by the FBI to determine who can buy a firearm. Trump’s repeal was backed by the National Rifle Association, civil rights agency ACLU and many mental health professionals.

It’s unlikely the repeal had any bearing on the incident in Florida or even that Trump’s repeal was the wrong thing to do. But it raises the larger question of whether there is a fair way to identify people with mental health issues who have the capacity for carrying out heinous acts like what we witnessed last week. Much in the same way most legal gun owners wouldn’t carry out a school shooting, not every person who has a mental health illness should be labeled a potential mass murderer, either.

There is no question that Cruz has problems. A former classmate told the Miami-Herald: “From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.” From various media accounts, he had lost both parents, had been expelled from school, threatened other students, had been in trouble repeatedly for minor incidents prompting police to be called several times, and posted “very disturbing” social media messages, including one stating “I'm going to be a professional school shooter,” that was reported to the FBI.

The FBI was also contacted again in January, it was reported Friday, about concerns Cruz may carry out a school shooting, but the FBI didn’t follow proper protocols to investigate further. Perhaps if they had, it would’ve prevented Wednesday’s tragedy. That absolutely must be investigated to find out what went wrong in the process and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

But even if an investigation occurred, it’s possible nothing may have changed. According to the Herald, the FBI investigated Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen for 10 months but turned up no evidence of criminal activity before he carried out his attack in June 2016. It’s unclear whether Cruz’s postings would’ve been enough to warrant an arrest that may have stopped him from carrying out his murderous plans. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have said it best when he stated, “You and I know we cannot arrest everybody that somebody thinks is dangerous, but I think we can and we must do better.”

Which brings us back to sensible gun control laws that legislators bought and paid for by the NRA refuse to touch. No one is suggesting confiscating weapons from law-abiding gun owners, but not surprisingly, researchers have found strong evidence that strengthening background checks and purchase permits decreased gun homicide rates. In every other developed nation where mass shootings were a problem, tighter gun control laws were enacted and — guess what? — they worked. In the United States, we don’t even bother to try.

“It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference,” Trump said in the wake of Wednesday’s shooting.

He’s right. Now let’s see if politicians have enough backbone to even consider sensible gun control laws in conjunction with providing more funding to get people with mental illness the help they deserve. If we continue to do nothing, nothing will change.