OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
The almost 3,000 students at the school had to be evacuated. Photo: AP

DESPITE the prevalence of mass shootings in public places in the United States, attacks such as that of February 14 at a high school in Florida, which killed 17 people and wounded 20 others, continue to astonish, given the degree of violence and the perpetrators’ easy access to weapons.

Several U.S. media outlets and personalities have questioned why so many incidents of this type occur in their country, whose rates are unequaled by all other developed nations.

“We think of America as an exceptional country. We are - we are the exception to the rule that mass shootings do not occur in schools, churches, concerts, and other public locations on an alarmingly regular basis,” congresswoman Elizabeth Esty tweeted.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the United States has anintentional homicide rate of 4.88 per 100,000 people, much higher than that of other rich nations such as Austria (0.51) or the Netherlands (0.61); and also higher than poorer countries such as Albania (2.28), Bangladesh (2.51) and Chile (3.59).

To this is added the phenomenon of mass shootings, which occur in the United States at an unparalleled rate for a country that is not at war in its own territory.

WHAT DOES THE LATEST SHOOTING IN FLORIDA TELL US?

The unfortunate events of February 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School in the city of Parkland, Florida, demonstrate the growing trend of such manifestations of violence in U.S. society.

Contrary to what one might suppose, mass shootings do not always occur in violent areas, but strike peaceful communities like Parkland, ranked by the Safe Cities Index as the 15th safest city in the U.S.

Another coincidence is the psychological profile of the attacker. Like Adam Lanza, who killed 26 people in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the perpetrator of the Florida massacre was a troubled adolescent with psychiatric problems and a history of violence.

Since the 1970s, the United States has closed the majority of its psychiatric hospitals, transferring the problem to prisons. Hundreds of thousands of people also suffer from mental illness without the necessary specialized care, which in most cases is not covered by social security.

Nineteen year old Nikolas Cruz, the main suspect in the Florida shooting, is a former student of Stoneman Douglas School who was expelled for “disciplinary reasons.” His adoptive parents recently passed away and he is said to be suffering a period of emotional instability, according to the preliminary investigations.

His acquaintances describe him as a “troubled kid,” an “outcast” and “crazy about guns.”

According to statements made by teachers at the school, they had been told to observe his movements and not to allow him to enter the center with a backpack.

On Cruz’s social media accounts, which were deleted after the attack, he posted photos carrying knifes, shotguns and pistols. Jillian Davis, a former classmate of Cruz, said he talked a lot about guns and knives, but no one took him seriously.

So far, the theory is that the attacker activated the school’s fire alarm and then opened fire on those who began evacuating.

When they heard the shots, many teachers and students realized that something odd was happening and took refuge in classrooms and cupboards for more than 40 minutes, until they were rescued by the police.

Stories of heroism have already come to light on the part of some teachers such as the American football coach, Aaron Feis, who was fatally wounded shielding a student who survived the attack.

LETHAL WEAPONS

The authorities investigating the incident claim that at the time of the arrest, Cruz was carrying an AR-15 assault-style rifle and multiple magazines of ammunition.

The ease with which a possible attacker can acquire a military-style firearm is another aspect that increases the number of victims in this type of attack.

In the case of Cruz, a person with a history of violence and a troubling social media profile, it is even more alarming that he managed to acquire weapons legally.

During recent years and following a spate of mass shootings, like that that which occurred during a concert in Las Vegas last year, leaving 58 dead, more and more voices are demanding greater control over gun sales.

However, important groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby hard in Washington to avoid any legislation that could harm their lucrative business.

Current President Donald Trump received direct support from the NRA during his 2016 election campaign, and has refused to criticize the ease of access to arms, despite the shootings that have occurred under his administration.

In fact, in his first statements regarding the events in Florida, Trump called to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” but he did not even mention the word “gun” in the five minutes he was talking.

It is estimated that there are between 200 and 300 million guns in the United States, almost one per person. Considering these figures, it is not surprising that some fall into the hands of possible perpetrators like Nikolas Cruz or any other willing to inflict lethal harm.

IN FIGURES

-291 shootings in U.S. schools since 2013.

- Average of 1 school shooting per week.

- The school shooting on February 14 was the 18th to occur this year.

-121 people have been killed in school shootings since the Sandy Hook incident in December 2012.

DEADLIEST U.S. SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

1.- Virginia Tech. April 16, 2007. Death toll: 32
2.- Sandy Hook Elementary School. December 14, 2012. Death toll: 26
3.- Stoneman Douglas High School. February 14, 2018. Death toll: 17
4.- University of Texas. August 1, 1966. Death toll: 14
5.- Columbine High School. April 20, 1999. Death toll: 13