‘If You See Something, Say Something’ Only Works if Authorities Do Something

by Jim Geraghty

An all-too-familiar, horrifying story:

He preened with guns and knives on social media, bragged about shooting rats with his BB gun and got kicked out of school — in part because he had brought bullets in his backpack, according to one classmate. He was later expelled for still-undisclosed disciplinary reasons.

The portrait of Nikolas Cruz, suspected of fatally shooting 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and wounding 15 others at his former school, is a troubled teen with few friends and an obsessive interest in weapons. Administrators considered him enough of a potential threat that one teacher said a warning was emailed last year against allowing him on the campus with a backpack.

“All he would talk about is guns, knives and hunting,” said Joshua Charo, 16, a former classmate at the high school. “I can’t say I was shocked. From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”

Late Wednesday, detectives were digging into the past of the 19-year-old who had no previous arrests but had displayed plenty of troubling behavior before officers took him into custody after what ranks as the third-deadliest school shooting in American history.

“Our investigators began dissecting social media,” Broward Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters. “Some of the things that come to mind are very, very disturbing.”

Math teacher Jim Gard remembered that the school administration earlier sent out an email warning teachers about Cruz.

“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” said Gard, who had him in class. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”

How many times will I have to write this? The mass shooters at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Isla Vista and Sandy Hook all had one thing in common: before the shootings, concerned and frightened people who had encountered the future shooter told various non-police authorities about what they had seen and heard — in some cases, campus police; in other cases, college and school administrators.

Teachers, school and university administrators, company HR departments — none of these establishments have the legal authority to seize a person’s firearms or commit them to a mental institution. Only the police and courts can do this.

The odds are pretty good that we will learn that the shooter in Florida had an interest in the Columbine school shooting. A stunning number of school shooters since Columbine indicated an obsessive interest in that shooting. Fascinating and disturbing research by Mother Jones found that the shooting inspired “at least 74 plots or attacks across 30 states” and “in at least 14 cases, the Columbine copycats aimed to attack on the anniversary of the original massacre. Individuals in 13 cases indicated that their goal was to outdo the Columbine body count. In at least 10 cases, the suspects and attackers referred to the pair.”

We will probably learn in the coming days how the shooter obtained his gun. A recent Washington Post study found that 168 guns used in mass shootings were obtained legally; 48 were obtained illegally.

If we must discuss gun control after an event like this, let us contemplate more consistent prosecution of straw buyers. Members of Congress have pressed the Department of Justice to make this a higher priority for years. U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones told a Congressional panel in 2013 that out of 48,321 cases involving straw buyers, the Justice Department prosecuted only 44 of them — saying that “hard decisions” to prosecute were made based on “limited resources.”

Even when the straw purchasers are prosecuted, the punishments are often much more lenient than the public might expect. Last year, Simone Mousheh purchased four weapons for $600 each and sold two to a man with Chicago gang ties. She was sentenced to 12 months probation,  15 days in the Cook County sheriff’s work alternative program and ordered to pay $679 in fines.

A lot of gun control advocates and progressives think they support this idea, until they realize who would get hit hardest by tougher prosecution. As my colleague Kevin Williamson wrote:

I visited Chicago a few years back to write about the city’s gang-driven murder problem, and a retired police official told me that the nature of the people making straw purchases — young relatives, girlfriends who may or may not have been facing the threat of physical violence, grandmothers, etc. — made prosecuting those cases unattractive. In most of those cases, the authorities emphatically should put the straw purchasers in prison for as long as possible. Throw a few gangsters’ grandmothers behind bars for 20 years and see if that gets anybody’s attention. In the case of the young women suborned into breaking the law, that should be just another charge to put on the main offender.

It is not difficult to imagine certain voices contending we need to “get tough on guns” and be lenient with straw purchasers simultaneously, and failing to grasp the contradiction.

Children of Immigrants, They Get the Job Done

Many commentators are coming to the defense of Bari Weiss, the New York Times columnist who is apparently detested by some of her colleagues.

Let us return to Weiss’ tweet, in response to U.S. skater Mirai Nagasu landing a triple axel in the Olympic figure skating competition — the first American woman to accomplish that feat. Weiss tweeted, “Immigrants: They get the job done.” (Weiss later deleted the tweet.)

Except . . .  Mirai Nagasu was born in the United States. Weiss insisted she was referring to the skater’s parents, and that she felt “the poetic license was Kosher.”

No doubt Weiss meant well. But words do mean things, and someone who is born in the United States doesn’t really count as an immigrant. Weiss clearly intended to salute Nagasu’s accomplishments and pay tribute to her parents, but . . . I can see why others would interpret Weiss’ tweet as labeling the skater an immigrant.

Separately, I’m not so sure it’s wise for immigrants and those who support legal immigration to adopt the Hamilton lyric as a rallying cry, even though it undoubtedly makes them proud and in many cases is true. Weiss was referring to this exchange — from the musical Hamilton — (visible in the video at about one minute in):

Lafayette: Monsieur Hamilton!

Hamilton: Monsieur Lafayette!

Lafayette: In command where you belong!

Hamilton: How you say, ‘no sweat’? We’re finally on the field. We’ve had quite a run!

Lafayette: Immigrants . . . 

Lafayette and Hamilton: We get the job done! (They high-five.)

Lin Manuel Miranda didn’t set out to make anybody feel worse about themselves; Hamilton is clearly designed to make every audience member’s heart swell with patriotic pride and gratitude.

Dear immigrant friends, God bless you. I’m glad you’re here. In some cases it is not an exaggeration to say I love you.

But I want you to imagine a different musical, say, Grant, where Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman celebrate a similar battlefield victory and declare, “Native-born: We get the job done!” (They high-five).

People would go nuts, right? They would conclude the line was xenophobic and anti-immigrant, an insult to everyone who came to this country from another place.

At this moment, our culture is extremely comfortable with immigrant pride and celebrates it, but extremely uncomfortable with an expression of pride in being born in the United States, finding it almost inherently hateful and dangerous. That value judgment more or less declares that one group of people is better and more valuable than another. Whether we like to admit it or not, “immigrants, we get the job done!” carries the implication, “native-born . . . eh, they’re at least a little bit less certain to get the job done.” If you’re trying to pour cold water on the smoldering embers of xenophobia and anti-immigrant attitudes, you’re going to want to avoid any arguments that suggest, “well, immigrants are just better than the people who are born here.”

And if you want to fight xenophobia, you’re probably going to want to avoid arguing that a young woman born in California is an honorary or de facto immigrant because she did something extraordinary. If you want to say, “God bless Ikuko and Kiyoto Naga, they’ve done such an extraordinary job in raising their daughter,” then say so. But they’re extraordinary because they’re extraordinary people, not simply because they’re immigrants.

In fact, wherever you stand on the political spectrum, I’m going to guess that recently at least one native-born child of an immigrant has really irked you.

Donald Trump is the son of an immigrant mother; Barack Obama is the son of an immigrant father. I guess they can’t all be gold medalists.

ADDENDA: Heather Wilheim with an odd and funny theory: “There is a shockingly high correlation between owning a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker and having an embarrassingly messy car.”

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty