Fred Guttenberg, the Parkland parent who confronted Marco Rubio on national television about the senator’s opposition to an assault weapons ban, had a very different conversation with the Florida Republican on Capitol Hill this week.
“Senator, see you tomorrow?” Guttenberg asked.
“I’m around all day, flying out Thursday night,” Rubio replied.
The pair disagree on gun-control policy, but Guttenberg and the Parkland families are united with Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson behind an effort to make the authorities who failed their children accountable.
History suggests they may be successful.
The families of the 17 victims in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School persuaded the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to sign a gun bill over the objections of the National Rifle Association. They successfully got the slow-moving U.S. Senate to fast-track limited school safety legislation into a must-pass spending bill last month.
And the voices that no lawmaker can ignore are pushing for agencies like the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Broward School Board and FBI to be held responsible, and soon.
“We all think we know, but we need to know with certainty, we need to find out why they made the mistakes and we need to fire people for their mistakes,” Guttenberg said. “Do any of the mistakes cross over to a criminal activity? I don’t know the law, but I do know at a minimum people need to be fired and they need to be fired soon.”
Three Parkland parents are serving on a state commission established by Scott and granted subpoena powers. The commission is set to meet next week. One parent recently met with FBI Director Christopher Wray to discuss how the agency can learn from its mistakes. And the parents are confident something will happen, even if it takes a lot longer than they would want.
“Nobody has been reprimanded, nobody’s lost their job, 17 people are dead, 17 more are shot,” said Philip Schentrup, whose 16-year-old daughter Carmen was killed. “If we as a society won’t hold people accountable for 17 people dead and 17 more shot, what will we hold people accountable for?”
Three Parkland parents, Ryan Petty, Max Schachter and Andrew Pollack, are part of the state commission investigating the missteps that led to the February massacre. The commission has the power to force witnesses to testify as they compile their report, and an initial draft is due in January 2019. Petty and Schachter said the commission meets for the first time next week.
“We’re getting to work, we’re going to find out what happened, we’re going to get to the bottom of it and we’re going to hold all the agencies accountable” Schachter said. Schachter also met with Wray this week, and said the agency is serious about making substantive change after the domestic intelligence agency failed to follow up on a tip about Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz about a month before the shooting.
“He is committed, his top priority is school safety,” Schachter said, adding that Wray told him the FBI put checks in place after the Parkland shooting that ensure a supervisor reviews a tip sent to the FBI before it is discarded. “He talked about fixing the systems and putting redundancies in the system,” Schachter said, adding that the FBI employee receiving the tip must have a supervisor review it before the decision is made not to follow up.
The Parkland parents were also on Capitol Hill this week to discuss ways to keep schools safer.
Various ideas, including built-in smoke bombs that can be deployed remotely to disorient an intruder, were introduced.
But Guttenberg and Schentrup argued that vigilant personnel and basic steps like limiting access points into schools are more important than expensive school upgrades.
Police should have been aware that Cruz’s brother was skateboarding on campus weeks after the shooting, they said. And some solutions, like equipping teachers with panic buttons, won’t cost that much money compared to alarm systems and smoke bombs.
Guttenberg said he was once a Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee and all of his employees had buttons that could alert police in the event of a robbery.
“It’s not an expensive thing to do,” Guttenberg said.
Rubio said he’s hopeful the multiple investigations, some overseen by state and local agencies along with the federal investigation into the FBI, will hold the appropriate people accountable.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that this case involved a muti-systemic failure under existing laws,” Rubio said. “It wasn’t just the [Broward] Sheriff’s Office and the school district, it was the federal government and the state government.”