The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre

Paul Danish

A few days after Nikolas Cruz allegedly perpetrated Valentine’s Day Massacre version 2.0 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida, it emerged that the FBI had been warned — twice — that Cruz was both a wacko and a ticking time bomb that might shoot up a school.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office had allegedly received at least 45 complaints over the years about Cruz or his brother, as well as a number of warnings that he might go crazy and shoot up a school.

An investigator for the Florida Department of Children and Families who evaluated Cruz for possibly suicidal behavior — he allegedly cut himself, tried to swallow gasoline, and announced he wanted to buy a gun — concluded that he was “not currently a threat to himself or to others” and did not need to be committed for mandatory mental health treatment.

Neither the Sheriff’s deputy stationed at the school nor the three Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the school while the carnage was taking place appeared to immediately enter the building to try to stop it.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel had the temerity to tell the public, “If you see something, say something.”

Which begs a question: Why? Freaking? Bother?

Law enforcement systematically blew off the warnings it received about Cruz and ignored the obvious red flags raised by the 45 complaints it got about his conduct.

The calls to the FBI were routed not to FBI agents in a Florida field office but to a call center the Bureau had set up in West Virginia so that real agents, who supposedly had more important things to do, wouldn’t be bothered by having to answer the phone and deal with distraught citizens.

The calls to the Broward County Sheriff that resulted in visits to the Cruz house — for complaints about “a mentally ill person,” “child/elderly abuse,” “domestic disturbance” and “missing person” — resulted in “no written report” being filed, let alone an arrest being made.

This sort of non-response by law enforcement makes a case for citizens owning guns for defense of themselves and their families that’s far more compelling than anything the NRA could say or do.

But how can this be?

A call in 2016 from a Cruz neighbor sheds some light on that. The caller, a woman named Joelle Guarino, warned the Sheriff’s Office of an Instagram post from Cruz in which he said he “planned to shoot up the school.” Guarino told CNN she had begged the Sheriff’s Office to intervene. She said she was told there was nothing deputies could do until Cruz actually did something.

Think about that: She was told there was nothing deputies could do until Cruz actually did something.

The awful truth is the problem wasn’t law enforcement incompetence, although self-evidently there was some of that involved. The central problem was (and is) that doing nothing until Cruz actually did something is the way American law enforcement and the criminal justice system is set up to function — and it was functioning in the way it was intended to.

The primary mission of American law enforcement is to catch and punish (or correct, if you prefer) criminals after they have committed a crime. Its primary mission is not to prevent crimes from occurring, although sometimes its able to, except to the extent that apprehending criminals prevents them from committing subsequent crimes and that catching law breakers has a deterrent effect on other potential law breakers.

And, God help us, this is as it should be and as it must be — assuming you want the U.S.A. to remain a free country. If law enforcement had the power to arrest people who haven’t broken the law because they might commit crimes in the future, it would be the end of freedom as we know it, and the dawn of the sort of dystopias George Orwell and Phillip K. Dick described in their novels, replete with thought police.

So the criminal justice system allows time bombs like Cruz to keep on ticking until they blow up — out of an abundance of caution, ironically enough.

The truth is law enforcement’s ability to prevent crimes before they happen is limited, and, thankfully, that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

So what’s to be done to prevent school shootings short of turning the country into a police state?

Getting law enforcement to treat citizen tips more seriously would help. They have foiled a number of potential school shootings thus far, but don’t expect miracles to become routine.

Calling the cops after a shooter opens fire demonstrably doesn’t work. The best you can hope for is having people in the building, officers or armed faculty, who can nip the crime in the bud, hopefully before the perps open fire, but failing that, can minimize the damage by killing them.

Gun control advocates think they can prevent school shootings by banning guns generally and assault rifles in particular. They’re as crazy as Cruz.

The idea that school shootings can be prevented by confiscating 300 million guns, including 10 or 20 million assault rifles, from 75 or 80 million gun owners who consider gun ownership a constitutional right is delusional. The most likely results of even trying would be massive non-compliance, the emergence of a huge black market in guns and ammunition, and violent resistance. It would make national life orders of magnitude more lawless and dangerous and infinitely more oppressive.

Those calling for more gun control should give some thought to what would happen if they got what they’ve been wishing for.

This opinion column does not reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.