Members of Congress will tour Stoneman Douglas massacre site before demolition

Gun Rights

A bipartisan congressional delegation will tour the site of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, where 17 people were killed and 17 injured, before the building is torn down.

“You will have the somber experience of touring Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the site of the deadliest high school shooting in our country’s history,” U.S. Reps. Jared Moskowitz and Mario Diaz-Balart wrote in a letter to their colleagues inviting them to a private tour and a roundtable next month.

Moskowitz, a Democrat and Stoneman Douglas graduate who represents Parkland, where the shooting took place, will lead the tour. Diaz-Balart, a Miami-Dade County Republican, is the dean of the Florida congressional delegation. Both are members of the Congressional Bipartisan School Safety and Security Caucus.

Family members of victims have recently toured the building. Aug. 4, the date of the tour, is also the scheduled date of a reenactment of the shooting, using live ammunition.

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“The tour on August 4th will include the 1200 building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to see firsthand how a school shooting can affect families and a community,” Moskowitz and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart wrote in the “Dear Colleague” letter.

“Immediately following the tour, members will have the opportunity to meet with survivors and parents to discuss the challenges children face at school and to help find ways to mitigate these present dangers,” they said.

Democratic and Republican members of Congress have RSVP’d for the tour, which is only open to members.

Max Schachter, whose son Alex, 14, was killed at his school, said on social media that “ALL Members of Congress and state legislatures should walk besides me thru the Parkland school shooting site before it’s torn down. I want YOU to understand what happened that day. Work with me to prevent this from happening again. Who will walk besides me?” He tagged the House and Senate Democrats and Republicans in his post.

Moskowitz, serving his first term in Congress, was a state representative from northwest Broward at the time of the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre.

He rushed back home from Tallahassee and spent the night with family members as they learned what had happened to their loved ones at the school.

On the day of the massacre, one of Moskowitz’s young sons was at a nearby school and took refuge in a closet where he was comforted by a teacher. That teacher was Jennifer Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was an MSD student and one of those killed in the massacre.

He later brought Democratic and Republican legislators from elsewhere in the state to see the carnage the shooter created. Those tours and an emotional Moskowitz floor speech in the state House of Representatives were credited with helping win passage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The law earned him an F-minus rating from the National Rifle Association — a grade which Moskowitz has said meant he was doing the right thing.

The law raised the age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21, created a statewide waiting period for long-gun sales and made it easier for law enforcement to seize weapons from people suspected of being dangerous.

The Stoneman Douglas shooter was 19. Republicans in the Florida House passed a measure this year that would have rolled back part of that law and lower the age to buy rifles and other long guns to 18, an effort supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but the Republican leadership in the Florida Senate sidelined the proposal and it didn’t get a vote.

DeSantis asserted a minimum age of 21 was “unconstitutional.” The NRA had previously challenged the law, arguing in part that the law imposes an improper restriction on the Second Amendment rights of people under 21. A federal judge upheld the law in 2021. And in March, a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Atlanta rejected that claim and upheld the law, citing gun restrictions dating to the 1800s.

Earlier this month, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the full court would hear the NRA challenge. A week later, it announced a delay, telling attorneys in the case not to file briefs arguing their case until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a Texas gun law.

Aug. 4, the date of the congressional tour, is the same day of a judge-approved reenactment of the shooting in connection with a lawsuit by victims’ families against the shooter, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, and the deputy who was on duty at the school at the time of the shooting.

The reenactment would be based on school surveillance videos of the massacre that show second-by-second the actions and locations of the deputy and the shooter during the six-minute attack in which some 140 rounds were fired.

Victims and family members have also toured the building after the conclusion of criminal trials against the shooter and the deputy. The building, left virtually untouched since the shooting, will be demolished once legal action is completed, school district officials said.

Diaz-Balart is the chief House sponsor and Moskowitz is a co-sponsor of legislation to expand a Secret Service threat-assessment program to include a greater focus on preventing violence at schools. The proposed Eagles Act would expand the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Program.

It is named in honor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Eagles.

Unlike previous years’ attempts, this year’s proposed Eagles Act has a broader mandate: expanding the threat-assessment program’s mandate and resources to encompass schools, workplaces and houses of worship.

The Secret Service established the National Threat Assessment Center in 1998 to develop evidence-based indicators of various types of targeted violence, including school shootings.

The center developed a threat-assessment model used by law enforcement to identify potentially violent individuals, assess whether an individual poses an imminent threat and determine how to manage the threat. Among its findings are that most attackers exhibit indicators of pre-attack behavior.

This report includes information from Sun Sentinel archives and the News Service of Florida.

Anthony Man can be reached at aman@sunsentinel.com, on Twitter @browardpolitics and on Post.news/@browardpolitics.

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