“Frozen in Time”.  Kamala Harris tours the bloodied building where the 2018 Parkland massacre took place
“Frozen in Time”.  Kamala Harris tours the bloodied building where the 2018 Parkland massacre took place

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris visited the bloodied classroom building Saturday where 2018 Parkland High School Massacre happened, then announced a program to help states that have laws allowing police to temporarily seize guns from people judges deem dangerous.

Harris saw bullet-riddled walls and floors still covered in dried blood and broken glass left after the Feb. 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 14 students and three staff members and injured 17.

Halls and classrooms in the three-story building remain littered with shoes left behind by running students and wilted Valentine’s Day flowers and balloons. Textbooks, laptops, snacks and papers remain on the desks. They told her about each victim who died.

“Frozen in time,” Harris said repeatedly of what she saw. She was accompanied on the tour by family members of the victims, some of whom called for more spending on school safety and others for stricter gun laws.

Harris, who heads the new White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention, said there are lessons to be learned from Parkland, both about stopping school shootings before they happen and mitigating them with measures such as ensuring that classroom doors are not locked from the outside as they did at Stoneman Douglas. She pointed out that shootings are the leading cause of death for children and teenagers.

“We have to be willing to have the courage to say that at any level, whether you’re talking about changing laws or changing practices and protocols, we need to do better,” Harris said.

At Stoneman Douglas, former student Nikolas Cruz, then 19, fired about 140 rounds from his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle during his six-minute rampage, moving methodically from the first floor, through the second and into the third.

He pleaded guilty in 2021. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2022 after a jury couldn’t unanimously agree he deserved the death penalty, angered the families of the victims.

The building was preserved for the jury to tour. It has loomed over the 3,600-student school behind a temporary fence since the school reopened two weeks after the shooting. It is slated to be demolished this summer. No replacement plan has been announced.

After Harris’ tour, she announced a $750 million grant program to provide technical assistance and training to Florida and the 20 other states that have similar “red flag laws.”

Florida law allows police officers, with the permission of a judge, to temporarily confiscate weapons belonging to anyone proven to be a danger to themselves or others. The statute has been used more than 12,000 times since it was enacted six years ago in response to the Parkland shooting.

Harris also urged Congress and states without red flag laws to pass them. The Biden administration has called for a national red flag law.

Cruz had a long history of disturbing and strange behavior before the shooting, including torturing animals. In the weeks leading up to the shooting, he was reported to local law enforcement and the FBI by people who feared he was planning a mass shooting, but no action was taken. He legally purchased 10 guns in the 17 months between his 18th birthday and the massacre.

“Red flag laws are simply created to give communities a means by which they can share … information about a concern of potential danger or a cry for help,” Harris said.

Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican who signed Florida’s red flag law as governor, issued a statement Saturday calling the Biden administration’s proposed national red flag law “radical,” saying it would be modeled after the statute of California and would strip gun owners of their rights. California’s law is broader than Florida’s in that it allows family members, employers and others to initiate the process, but removal must also be approved by a judge.

The California law “abandons due process to more quickly and easily take away the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. This is unacceptable,” Scott said.

Harris’ tour was the last of the elected officials and law enforcement and education leaders in recent months. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited it in January, and several members of Congress, mostly Democrats, have passed through it since law enforcement regained custody of the school district building last summer. FBI Director Christopher Wray and Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle visited the building in recent days.

“It’s important to get these people through the building so they can see not only the horror that still exists there, but also so we can point out the exact things that have failed,” said Tony Montalto, president of Stand With Parkland. the group that represents most of the victims’ families. His 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed in the shooting.

Some Stoneman Douglas families participating in the tours, along with Harris and President Joe Biden, want the sale of AR-15s and similar weapons to be banned, as was the case from 1994 to 2004, but there is not enough support in Congress. Opponents, who include the families of other victims, argue that such a ban would violate the Second Amendment and do little to stop gun violence.

Linda Bagel Shulman said the tour showed Harris the carnage that mass shootings create — it would no longer be an abstract concept to her. Beagle Shulman’s 35-year-old son, geography teacher Scott Beagle, was killed while leading students to safety in his classroom. The papers he was evaluating when the shooting began remain on his desk.

“She understands how important gun violence prevention is to us,” Bagel Shulman said of the vice president. “But when you go into the actual building and see what actually happened, it doesn’t matter that it’s six years later. It really does something for you.

Max Schachter, whose son Alex died in the shooting, used the tours to convince officials to implement safety measures at the school, such as making doors and windows bulletproof. Alex, 14, was killed by shots fired through the window of his classroom door.

Schachter said while there are disagreements over gun laws, school safety brings the parties together. He pointed in particular to the fall visit by officials to Utah, which led to the adoption of a $100 million plan to strengthen that state’s schools.

“I couldn’t save Alex. But every time I get officers to walk through that building, lives are saved,” Schachter said.

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