Whether through song, license plate stickers or flags, police officers have been engaged in an ongoing propaganda campaign to convince the public that they are the “thin blue line” — that is, the only thing standing between good people and deadly chaos. But as we learned during two of the country’s deadliest school shootings — in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 and in Uvalde, Texas, last year — that vaunted blue line wasn’t thin. It was nonexistent.
As we learned during two of the country’s deadliest school shootings, that vaunted blue line wasn’t thin. It was nonexistent.
In those especially shocking crimes, as children were being slaughtered inside, the police remained outside. Was that cowardice? Was it criminal cowardice? In the case of Scot Peterson, the security officer assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a Florida jury decided Thursday that it was not.
Peterson, who in 2018 was a Broward County sheriff’s deputy assigned to the campus, didn’t enter the school after it was invaded by a 19-year-old with an assault-style rifle who killed 17 students, teachers and staff members and wounded another 17 people. Although Peterson stood accused of seven counts of neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury, a jury didn’t find him guilty of a single crime.
It is not unreasonable that a jury found that Peterson, the only other person on campus with a gun when the shooting started, was not legally obligated to embark upon a solo, and possibly suicidal, mission. You might even say it was understandable. But it is curious that a jury in Florida, a state with such a gleeful permissiveness toward guns, would acquit Peterson of all charges.
If Floridians can buy weapons like these with no questions asked, and, at the same time, residents don’t expect the police to confront people who have these guns and are using them criminally, then what is that if not a license for unchecked mayhem?
At the end of Florida’s most recent legislative session, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action praised Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis for passing and signing “NRA-backed constitutional carry.”
“Constitutional,” if you’re unaware, is the euphemistic adjective the NRA and like-minded groups have been using to describe laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons without having to go through a permitting or a training process.
At the same time, the NRA legislative institute expressed disappointment that the Florida Senate didn’t approve the House’s plan to “repeal Florida’s age discrimination.” The person who killed and wounded all those people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was 19, but to hear the NRA tell it, by keeping in place a minimum age of 21 to buy firearms from a licensed dealer, Florida is “denying Second Amendment rights to young adults.”
At this point, you can probably hear the NRA talking point in your head: Well, if the Parkland shooter had a gun illegally, then that just proves that gun laws don’t work. Gun control means only the bad guys will have guns! But laws aren’t passed with the expectation that nobody breaks them. Laws are passed to signal what society finds unacceptable and worthy of punishment. Besides, the argument about laws not working seems to never be applied to the war on drugs.
Contrary to what the NRA suggests, it’s a good thing the Florida Senate didn’t lower the age at which a person can buy a weapon. But given the persistence of people who push bad ideas and the noxious advocacy of the NRA, we can probably expect that commonsense restriction to fall in the future.
Peterson said it wasn’t fear but miscommunication and his belief that the shots were being fired from outside that kept him from going in.
The police in Uvalde were derided as cowards. So was Peterson. Donald Trump, who infamously claimed to have bone spurs to get out of serving in Vietnam, said Peterson “didn’t have the courage” and the Broward County sheriff said then that Peterson’s inaction made him “sick to my stomach.”
In an interview in 2018 with NBC's “TODAY” show, Peterson said it wasn’t fear but miscommunication and his belief that the shots were being fired from outside that kept him from going in.
“I didn’t get it right,” he said. “But it wasn’t because of some, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go into that building. Oh, I don’t want to face somebody in there.’ It wasn’t like that at all.” He said, “Those are my kids in there” and he “never would have sat there and let my kids get slaughtered. Never.”
After the jury acquitted Peterson of all charges Thursday, Broward County State Attorney Harold Pryor called his decision to prosecute Peterson “important not only to our community, but to the country as a whole.” He said, “It is not political to expect someone to do their job.” He said that expectation is especially not political “when it’s the vital job of being a school resource officer — an armed law enforcement officer with special duties and responsibilities to the children and staff members they are contracted to protect.”
But how does an officer carry out that job of protecting when, as the case of Uvalde demonstrates, bullets fired from such weapons can tear through one wall, cross a room, tear through another wall and still, after all that, tear through flesh?
Broward County State Attorney Harold Pryor called his decision to prosecute Peterson “important not only to our community, but to the country as a whole.”
Rather than asking why police don’t confront people with such weapons, we ought to be asking why so many politicians are making it more likely that the police will have to choose whether to confront people with such weapons.
The “thin blue line” argument is problematic on its face in that it suggests that a society couldn’t possibly be peaceful without the presence of those carrying deadly weapons. But even if that had some validity, the reality is that there isn’t a blue line thick enough to protect against this country’s most powerful, legally obtained weapons.
If we can’t expect police to go after somebody using such guns, then such guns shouldn’t be sold.