On October 20th, 2021, Nikolas Cruz, the 23-year-old gunman responsible for the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, plead guilty to all first-degree and attempted murder charges. Cruz, who was 19 years old when he killed fourteen students and three staff members with an AR-15 rifle at the high school that he had been expelled from a year prior, had initially plead not guilty to all thirty-four charges. However, according to NPR, his attorney, David Wheeler, recently stated that they would not contest his guilt and that they would be asking the court for seventeen life sentences. Although Cruz will be avoiding a trial, the fight over his punishment is only beginning as prosecutors are reportedly going to continue to seek the death penalty; a punishment that Cruz’s defense team was hoping to avoid with the guilty plea. The case is now headed to the sentencing or penalty phase of the trial, which is going to be presented before a jury who will have the opportunity to hear witnesses testimony and review evidence. Jury selection, or voir dire, is expected to begin on January 4, 2022.
The impact of the massacre, which is the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, was felt far beyond the Parkland community. It sparked an urgent call for stricter gun control legislation after survivors began speaking out and confronting lawmakers for their stance on gun control reform. In a statement released after Cruz plead guilty, March for Our Lives, the gun law reform organization which was started by survivors of the Parkland massacre said that “a guilty plea will not erase the past, and it will not bring us peace.” The organization further stated that gun violence is a systemic crisis and a “uniquely American epidemic.” According to PEW, the movement led by the student survivors motivated legislators to pass gun control legislation after the massacre. In 2018, states across the country, which included 14 with Republican governors, passed 50 new laws that would restrict access to guns in the wake of the shooting. However, gun control reform continues to be a contentious issue that is frequently debated even though gun violence in the U.S. has increased since the Parkland shooting.
Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.
- Writing: Explain the impact that the Parkland massacre has had on gun control reform.
- Debate: According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2021, Americans are split over whether legal changes would lead to fewer mass shootings. Do you believe that legal changes, such as stricter gun legislation, will lead to fewer mass shootings in the United States?
- Poll: Gun violence is a uniquely American epidemic. (Agree or Disagree).
- Short Answer: Discuss what will happen in the sentencing or penalty phase of the Cruz’s trial.
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