Inside the U.S. Military Recruitment Program That Trained Nikolas Cruz to Be “A Very Good Shot”

From democracynow.org, February 21, 2018. Part 1.

Dozens of students who survived last week’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida have arrived in Tallahassee to push for new gun control measures. On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Florida House of Representatives blocked a bid to bring up a bill to ban sales of assault-style rifles in the state. The Florida gunman, a 19-year-old white former student named Nikolas Cruz, was a member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, and was also part of a four-person JROTC marksmanship team at the school which had received $10,000 in funding from the NRA. For more, we speak with Pat Elder, director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that confronts militarism in schools. He’s the author of “Military Recruiting in the United States.”

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “Moonshiner” by Bob Dylan, sung by a very young Bob Dylan, about getting older, something 17 people won’t have the privilege of doing, getting older, in Florida. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

Dozens of students who survived last week’s school shooting in Florida have arrived in Tallahassee to push for new gun control measures, following last week’s mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen people were killed. The students are holding a rally today outside the Florida Statehouse, just a day after the Republican-controlled Florida House of Representatives blocked a bid to bring a bill to ban sales of assault-style rifles in the state.

While the Florida shooting has sparked a national debate over guns and the lobbying power of the National Rifle Association, the NRA, much less attention has been paid to another aspect of the shooting. The Florida gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was a member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, before he was expelled from the school. He was wearing his JROTC shirt when he carried out the massacre, in an attempt to blend in with other students. Cruz was also part of a four-person JROTC marksmanship team at the school which had received $10,000 in funding from the NRA. Seventeen months ago, the school sent out a tweet saying, quote, “MSD”—Marjory Stoneman Douglas—”JROTC Marksmanship team would like to thank the NRA for their grateful donation of nearly $10,000 to upgrade and replenish equipment!” According to the Associated Press, Cruz and other members of the team used air rifles special-made for target shooting, typically on indoor ranges at targets the size of a small coin. One of Cruz’s former classmates said, quote, “He was a very good shot.”

Meanwhile, the Army has awarded the Medal of Heroism to three Junior ROTC cadets who died in the Parkland, Florida, shooting: 15-year-old Peter Wang and two 14-year-old freshmen, Martin Duque and Alaina Petty. Wang reportedly died while holding a door open to help other classmates escape.

We’re joined now by Pat Elder, director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that confronts militarism in the schools, author of Military Recruiting in the United States.

Can you respond to what is taking—what took place at the school, how unusual it is, what JROTC is?

PAT ELDER: Well, thanks for having me on, Amy.

The JROTC program is a military recruitment program that has more than 3,000 schools. Of those, more than 1,600 schools participate in marksmanship programs across the country. So we have firing ranges in high schools in every state. They fire .177 caliber rifles. They’re CO2-fired. The lead projectile travels at 600 feet per second. By comparison, a .22 caliber rifle travels at between 800 and 900 feet per second. So, it’s a lethal weapon, categorized by the Army. And Florida state law specifically prohibits carrying these weapons, these lethal weapons, into schools.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have Nikolas Cruz, the confessed gunman. He’s part of the ROTC program, supported by the NRA, at this school, even as the school has these complaints of harassment and abuse, and ultimately expel him. Can you—he’s wearing a JROTC T-shirt when he opens fire on his classmates.

PAT ELDER: Well, apparently he wanted to convey to the world that he was affiliated with the JROTC program. Amy, it’s an insidious practice. We have the United States Army and the other three branches in the high schools putting lethal weapons into the hands of 13- and 14-year-olds. It’s time this stops. And the program has more than 575,000 children in all the states, and it teaches an insidious, horrendous, reactionary view of American history. The United States government, for instance, had an innocent Navy boat off of the Gulf of Tonkin, and it was maliciously fired on by the North Vietnamese. We helped Cubans win their independence because they were treated so poorly by the Spanish. I think you get the idea. We’re not just talking about putting weapons into the hands of 13-year-olds. We’re also talking about a system that brainwashes these children with textbooks. For instance, the civics textbook used in JROTC programs across the country has a unit on United States civics entitled “You the People.” I learned as “We the People.” Didn’t you?

AMY GOODMAN: So what is the connection between the NRA and these JROTC programs, at least at the school in Florida?

PAT ELDER: Well, the NRA typically does not give money. They give materials and supplies. That way, they can purchase the materials and supplies from their supporters. Throughout the country, and especially in the Rust Belt and poor urban schools, the individual schools want to set up firing ranges in their schools, and so they need materials. They need the backstops, they need the targets, they need the guns, they need the CO2 cartridges, and they need the lead pellets. So, the NRA will help these schools through a grants process, and they spend money on schools through these grants across the country.

Should be noted, too, that these are lead projectiles. The lead accumulates at the muzzle end of the gun, on the floor, and the lead accumulates at the target backstop. There’s been a link between the lead in firing ranges, that have only these types of guns, and elevated blood lead levels. It’s something that needs to be discussed. And there is a health aspect of JROTC shooting in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Pat Elder, I want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to continue our discussion and post it online at democracynow.org under web exclusives. Pat Elder, director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that confronts militarism in the schools, author of Military Recruiting in the United States.

This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us. If you’d like to go to Part 2 of our discussion with Pat Elder, you can go to democracynow.org.

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