School shooters: Know the warning signs
As a prosecutor, Sen. Jason Pizzo watched helplessly as 20 mothers of murdered children would meet every Tuesday at Miami-Dade County’s Northside police station to discuss their kids’ cases and provide each other support.
“If you asked by show of hands, how many arrests or closures have been made and clearance rate for those murders, maybe one or two hands go up,’’ he said, and many of them knew or suspected their child’s killers but prosecutors didn’t have the evidence to prove it.
Of the dozens of homicides Pizzo investigated and prosecuted as a former assistant state attorney, “every single one was precipitated by a social media post, a beef back and forth between two groups or two individuals that all kids can see,’’ he said.
Kids who had run-ins with the law would post photos of themselves and their guns on social media, signaling to friends, gangs, and the rest of the world, they had easy access and to beware. But he and other prosecutors could do little about it because a social media post wasn’t enough evidence to prompt an arrest.
Pizzo said he ran for the state Senate to change that. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved SB 656, which would allow police to arrest juveniles for illegal possession of firearms and charge them with a misdeameanor if they post their vanity videos and photos showing off their illegal weapons on social media.
Under the measure, police could make the arrest without a warrant, as long as there is probable cause to believe the young person has illegally possessed the weapons.
It’s against Florida law for anyone under age 18 to possess a firearm unless they are target shooting or hunting with an adult. Anyone convicted on a first offense can be sentenced to three days in a juvenile detention facility.
The measure does nothing to change existing law, which also allows law enforcement to charge a parent with a third-degree felony for permitting a child to illegally possess a firearm.
The bill won the support of two of the Senate’s most stalwart protectors of gun rights, Sens. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Kelly Stargel, R-Lakeland. But it faces an uphill climb because the NRA is opposing it, and few GOP legislators are willing to antagonize the gun lobby in an election year.
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said her organization’s objection is based on the fact that they believe the bill leaves “too much to chance when it comes to law-abiding kids engaged in legitimate activities.”
“We would support a bill for law enforcement to take action against kids who are in illegal possession and are threatening,’’ she said, adding there should be clear exceptions to prevent police from going after kids who post a photo of themselves with a rifle next to a felled deer, or want to show off a trophy they won in a shooting competition.
“We want law-abiding kids protected,’’ she said. “We want kids who misuse guns and shoot each other stopped, but you should not throw kids who use guns for legitimate purposes under the bus just to get at kids who commit crimes.”
Pizzo said that those activities are not illegal and displaying them on social media does not violate the existing law.
“If some 15-year-old is with his dad and they get a big, wild hog or something that they just shot and they want to take photographs and display them all over the place, go ahead,’’ he said. “It’s a lawful activity.”
Pizzo said that in every mass shooting in the U.S., the perpetrator has been caught or killed — giving the families of the victims a “sense of closure,’’ he said. For most black and brown families, he argues, there is no such closure.
“The majority of black mothers have no closure in their cases because there are no marches, there are no rallies, there aren’t special sessions,’’ Pizzo said. “We’re not spending hundreds of millions of dollars, but in the aggregate, far more black boys died every year.”
He said that data shows that black children and teens in Florida are three times more likely to be threatened by a firearm than children of whites and other races, and firearms are the second-leading cause of death among children and teens in Florida.
“I appeal really to your sense of fairness and justice in the community, that if we want to tackle the gun violence problem, we should pick the largest pool of kids getting killed, and in my district overwhelmingly every year, it’s young black men,’’ he told the committee. “And we have done little for them.”
His goal, he said, is to create a deterrent effect and spread the word among kids that possessing guns can get you in trouble. He also sees it as another tool for law enforcement, allowing them to persuade an arrested teen to get a sentence reduced by cooperating with police and telling them who gave them the firearm.
“But do you really want to know what the messaging really is?,’’ he asked. “It’s that we’re watching and that we care.”