The shooting in Parkland, Florida, was supposed to be yet another morality tale about the evils of private gun ownership, showing us why we need to surrender our weapons to the state. It has ended up being a massive story about government incompetence and indifference, centering around Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. It just goes to show you. The moment I write something nice about the office of sheriff, a sheriff has to go and bring discredit to that office.
But here’s the aspect of the aspect of the story that stands out for me. It’s not just that Sheriff Israel’s record of incompetence keeps piling up. It’s that he responds to the resulting disaster by asking for more power.
Literally, those are his exact words. In his first press conference after the shooting, he called for more police authority to put people in jail over “disturbing” social media posts, declaring, “We need to have the power.” He also asked for more money for Sheriff’s departments.
As more information has come out, we have discovered that both local and national law enforcement received abundant tips about the shooter and failed to follow up on them or use any the power they have. Yet still they need more. At that notorious CNN town hall last week, Sheriff Israel doubled down on that.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office, we received tips, numerous tips on this killer. We—some we answered by phone, some were out of state, some we went out there. Our command staffer is actually looking into some of these tips to make sure we did everything right. If we made a mistake, I’ll act accordingly and deal with it. The person responsible is the agent or the detective, or the person who received the tip and didn’t exercise their due diligence and took it where they needed to be.
All that being said, what I’m asking the lawmakers to give police all over this country is more power.
He reiterated the point later on, insisting that “the power of police is not as great as it should be.”
You know who Sheriff Israel reminds me of? He reminds me of Wesley Mouch, one of the villains in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, the classic dissection of the Big Government mindset. Wesley Mouch is a DC hanger-on who fails upward into the position of chief economic planner, and every time his blundering interventions lead to disaster, he has the same response: “I need wider powers.” It’s his signature line.
In other news, I occasionally get people who tell me that Ayn Rand’s novels are not realistic. So why do people in real life keep auditioning for roles in it? I’m going to start calling Scott Israel “Sheriff Wesley Mouch.”
The Parkland shooting was a failure of government at every level. The FBI received a tip that the shooter was photographing himself clothed in the garb of an ISIS fighter—and failed to follow up. The shooter was well known to local police to be mentally unstable and repeatedly threatening to kill people, and they pretty much ignored the problem. And that was all before the actual attack occurred and sheriff’s deputies waited outside rather than confronting the shooter.
But wait, it gets worse. Sarah Rumpf just did some invaluable reporting about Broward County’s slipshod approach to law enforcement in the schools and nailed down some of the documents that support it. What she found is a scheme pushed by Sheriff Israel to reduce juvenile crime statistics in Broward County through the simple expedient of not arresting juveniles when they commit crimes. The theory is that going easy on minor and non-violent offenses would pull kids out of the “school-to-prison pipeline” and keep them from being permanently held back by youthful indiscretions. In practice, it functions like broken windows policing in reverse. The idea behind the broken windows approach is that if you crack down on minor crimes, criminals are deterred from committing bigger ones. They are not emboldened by the “broken windows” of a neighborhood that has been abandoned by the police. Sheriff Wesley Mouch’s approach in Broward sent the opposite message, both to juvenile delinquents and to his own deputies, that anything goes because the police don’t really want to enforce the law.
This is the context in which the Parkland shooter repeatedly came into contact with the police and was simply bounced around inside the school system. As Rumpf sums it up:
Sheriff Israel said that he instructed BSO deputies to issue juvenile civil citations, not arrests;
The BCSD’s own written policy encouraged handling even criminal activity “outside the criminal justice system”;
The BCSD’s own written policy did not actually require arrests, even for felonies and serious threats to school safety;
Cruz’s behavior included repeated disruptive behavior, violent outbursts, threats, and physical assaults on other students; and
Cruz was never expelled or apparently arrested for this behavior.
During Israel’s tenure in office, she calculates, juvenile arrests have decreased by nearly half—but there is no evidence that actual violent crimes by juveniles have decreased. They’re just not being arrested for it. So Sheriff Israel needs “wider powers”—and, of course, more money from the state government—so he can ignore more young criminals.
The power of government is limited partly because it should be limited to protect our freedom, and partly because government cannot centrally plan evil and insanity any more than it can centrally plan the economy. The FBI receives more than a million tips a year and isn’t always going to be able to winnow through them to determine which are real threats. There are a lot of people who are constant troublemakers but who never quite do anything for which they can be locked up or deprived of their civil rights. Uses of force are complex and confusing events, and even armed and trained police can be paralyzed by fear or befuddled by the fog of war. All of that is true before we take into account the levels of incompetence and corruption that are normal for government employees with powerful unions and untouchable pensions.
All of this makes the case for why we need private ownership of firearms so we can defend ourselves. Because we sure don’t want to have to depend for our safety entirely on Sheriff Wesley Mouch.