Senate Hears From Parkland Survivors As House Moves School Safety Bill

WASHINGTON (CN) – Katherine Posada, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, choked back tears Wednesday, her voice wavering as she recounted to the Senate Judiciary Committee the horror of hearing gunshots ring near her classroom as students and teachers fell dead inside of the Parkland, Florida, school exactly 30 days ago.

Students staged walkouts across the country Wednesday as Posada, brushing away tears, offered her insight to senators about why this mass shooting, after so many, seemed to be a tipping point in the national conversation on gun control.

After the 2012 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the surviving students were too young to be able to do anything, Posada said.

“The biggest difference has been our students. Our students are intelligent, well spoken and they’re tired of being under threat,” Posada said. “They’re tired of being attacked. They’re standing up and saying: adults have failed us. Our system has failed us and we need to be the ones who make the difference … we come from a great school system and our teachers have prepared these kids. We didn’t know we were preparing them for a tragedy like this or this kind of thing on a national scale, but we did.”

Posada was joined by several other panelists, including Ryan Petty, father of slain victim Alaina Petty, deputy FBI director David Bowdich; deputy director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Thomas Braden; and Linda Alathari, a senior researcher at the U.S. Secret Service.

The hearing was an opportunity for lawmakers to curry support for legislation aimed at mitigating gun violence while conducting oversight of the missed opportunities law enforcement agencies had in the run up to the Parkland massacre.

Shortly after the Senate hearing, the House of Representatives authorized $500 million over 10 years for grants to improve training and coordination between schools and local law enforcement and help identify signs of potential violence before they occur.

The House approved the bill, 407-10.

Two bipartisan senate bills, the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Act, introduced last week by Senators Lindsey Graham, R-.S.C., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., were the focus of Wednesday’s hearing. Their bill would allow courts to temporarily prevent gun ownership or the sale of guns to dangerous individuals.

Plans for a similar bill was unveiled by Florida senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson urging states to roll out “red-flag” laws. Their legislation allows restraining orders to be filed against potentially dangerous individuals seeking a firearm.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also encouraged senators to pass his Fix NICS bill which holds government agencies accountable for failing to document a person’s criminal history inside of the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

On March 9, Cornyn secured enough sponsors to vault the legislation beyond filibustering but it still must run the Senate gamut.

Ryan Petty expressed support for all of the proposed legislation but didn’t mince words with lawmakers. Like Posada, he  fought back tears as he testified.

“My concern is we go down the path we always go down after every school shooting. We have a debate about the Second Amendment… The best way to prevent school shootings is to improve school security first but beyond that, early identification and interdiction is the best way to prevent this from happening,” Petty said.

Petty broke down as he recalled the ignored signs Cruz reportedly sent up before the rampage.

“Nikolas Cruz and the deadly danger he posed were one of the worst kept secrets in Parkland, with one inexcusable exception: he was kept a secret from many of the parents of students at [Marjory Stoneman],” Petty said. “Yet every relevant authority knew he was deeply troubled: the foster system knew it, the FBI knew it, the school district knew it. The Broward County Sheriff’s Department knew it. All were empowered to take action, not one fulfilled their duty.”

“The testament of their failure is 17 dead students and teachers. A burden we must bear forever,” Petty said.

Rendered “powerless to fulfill the most sacred trust of parents,” Petty asked lawmakers to forgive him for “not believing government is the solution.”

The legislation proposed last week by Florida senators would be a “good start” but the battle of man versus evil was “as old as humanity itself,” Petty said.

“If we think of school violence as a disease, we would not just treat the symptoms. We have to identify these troubled youth before they turn violent and get them the help they desperately need,” he continued. “We need to stop the next killer in our homes,” adding the best defense is building strong families “where love can be shown to a hurting child.”

“It’s not for Congress to determine but until we understand that, our efforts will continue to fall short,” Petty said.

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich assured senators the intake process for criminal tips submitted to the agency was under review with training seminars issued to agency tip-takers. Bowdich expressed support for Cornyn’s legislation, acknowledging the widespread shortfalls of the current system.

“[NICS] is only as good as the information that goes into it,” he said.

Bringing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms background-check filing system online from a paper-only documentation system to a digital platform should be the next critical step to improving background data, Sen. Durbin told the BATF deputy director Thomas Braden.

“You know why there are only paper records?” Durbin asked. “Because the National Rifle Association doesn’t want digital records to be searched through.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also slammed the NRA as she pushed for legislation overturning the 1996 Dickey amendment.

The amendment prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying the impact of gun violence. The amendment was heavily backed by the NRA and for over a decade, has rendered the nation incapable of fully understanding the correlation between mental health and gun violence.

The NRA did not respond to request for comment Wednesday.

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