Shortly after a shooting in a Florida high school that left at least 17 people dead, Donald Trump tweeted his "prayers and condolences" to the families of shooting victims. The next day, however, Trump appeared to blame the Florida shooting on the community of Parkland, Florida, where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located.
"So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior," Trump tweeted on Thursday. "Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"
This was not the first time that Trump attributed mass shootings to mental health concerns. Back in November, following a shooting at a Texas church, Trump blamed the shooting on mental illness and described the shooter as a "very deranged individual."
Trump's statement about the Florida shooter should be a cause for concern, especially as it seems to blame the shooting on the Parkland community rather than on the shooter himself. Moreover, the FBI actually was reportedly aware of the gunman's aspirations to become a mass shooter, negating Trump's claims that reporting him would have prevented the shooting. Perhaps most frustrating, however, is the fact that Trump and his fellow Republicans have been working to loosen existing gun control legislation, making it easier for people to buy guns in the first place.
Trump Is Blaming People Who Knew The Shooter — Instead Of The Shooter
In this tweet, Trump suggested quite explicitly that the "neighbors and classmates" who know that Cruz "was a big problem" should have prevented the shooting by reporting him. But several people from the high school pointed out that the federal government needs to assume more responsibility for this shooting — not the people who were most directly impacted by it.
Sarah, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, rejected Trump's condolences on Twitter, insisting that better gun control legislation would be far more useful. Meanwhile, teacher Melissa Falkowski told CNN's Anderson Cooper that she felt like the government "has failed us and failed our kids."
The shooter made the decision to open fire on his old high school. He made the decision to pull a fire alarm so students would come streaming into the school hallways. He made the decision to kill at least 17 people.
It is not the Parkland community that should assume the burden of responsibility for the shooter's actions — that burden remains with him, as well as with lawmakers who wring their hands and tweet prayers every time a mass shooting happens but then refuse to pass any concrete legislation.
The FBI Knew About The Shooter
BuzzFeed reported that the shooter was actually on the FBI's radar months before Wednesday's shooting. Last fall, a YouTube user named Ben Bennight noticed that someone named Nikolas Cruz had left a frightening comment on one of his videos: "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." Bennight immediately reported the comment to YouTube and sent a screenshot of it to the FBI.
The FBI did not confirm that the YouTube user who had left the comment was the same person who carried out the shooting in Florida. However, BuzzFeed reported that shortly after the shooter was taken into custody on Wednesday, the FBI called Bennight, requesting a follow-up interview.
The FBI's interactions with Bennight indicate that there had been some suspicion about the shooter and the potential threat he posed well before the shooting took place. Trump's claim that the shooting could have prevented if someone had reported him is therefore superfluous. A government agency had already been alerted to his behavior, and he was still able to get ahold of an AR-15.
Trump's Tweet Lacks Any Indication Of Further Action
Other than a vague tweet about "working closely with law enforcement," Trump gave no indication that he plans to take further action on gun control. This is unsurprising, especially given that he avoided talking about gun control in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting last year.
Trump has routinely brought up mental health in conversations about mass shootings — but as multiple journalists have pointed out, he has made it easier for people with mental illnesses to purchase guns. Last February, Trump signed a bill rolling back Obama-era legislation that added people who received Social Security checks for mental illness to the national background check database.
Trump actively avoids talking about or implementing more stringent gun control measures, but for someone who frequently brings up mental health in the wake of mass shootings, he has also attempted to implement multiple pieces of legislation that would drastically reduce mental health care access for millions.
Instead of blaming the shooter's "neighbors and classmates," Trump and his fellow Republicans need to closely examine their own complicity in mass shootings, because "prayers and condolences" mean nothing as gun control laws grow more and more lax, and mental health care access is increasingly at risk.
This perspective is reflective of the author's opinion, and is part of a larger, feminist discourse.