I have a voice and I will raise it now.
A truncated version of this Opinion was published in the Tallahassee Democrat on July 7, 2019.
Earlier this month, the parents of the youngest woman killed at Tallahassee Hot Yoga filed a lawsuit against the owner of the studio and the property owners for failing to provide adequate safety for patrons. I cannot possibly understand the pain that this family feels; therefore, it is incredibly difficult to judge their decisions. In addition, it must be agonizing for a family to experience such a heartbreaking loss without any sense of justice (although that word feels awkward and misplaced here in any circumstance). I would imagine there could be some sense of closure that comes from a family’s day in court, especially if that family is able to see the killer sentenced. In this case the killer even took that right from this grieving family.
This lawsuit, as Betton property spokesperson, Ron Sachs stated, is misguided. However, I do not think that we should mistake that reality with the suggestion that the gunman is the only one who bears responsibility for this tragedy.
The shooter purchased the gun he used to kill two innocent women in July of 2018. He purchased the gun at Central Florida Pawn in Orange City, not in some back alley. This is after arrests in 2012, 2014 and 2016 that all involved sexual misconduct towards women and also after being discharged from the Army in 2010 for inappropriate conduct with female soldiers. His arrests lead to no real consequences even though one of the incidents when he grabbed a woman’s butt was caught on video, playing out exactly as she described.
Not only was this man able to legally purchase a gun, he was hired by Leon County Schools in 2015 and by Volusia County Schools in 2017— after the discharge and a history of arrests.
He made his hatred for women public online and also described his interest in violence as a form of revenge. In 2018, a woman reported him to the FBI for the threatening content of his website and the FBI determined the tip to be “non-actionable”.
This man was a known threat to women. The shooting at the yoga studio was more aligned with murders that stem from domestic violence than with other mass shootings. He was motivated by hatred of, and powerlessness to, women. Instead of focusing his anger towards one woman, he held an entire gender accountable. Although he did not have a connection to these particular women, he had a history of threatening all women.
The federal government will put individuals on a no-fly list, deeming them dangerous to Americans for often unspecified reasons based on previous actions, public comments, suspicious travel and arrests. American citizens have a 1 in 45,808 chance of being killed by terrorism. We are more likely to be killed by an animal attack, a heatwave, a bicycle accident. Americans have a 1 in 358 chance of death from assault with a gun.
A man can threaten women physically, verbally, and publicly and still be able to legally buy a gun. He is still able to be hired to work in our schools, alone in a classroom with our children. Our no-fly list involves a coordinated effort between the federal government and state and local agencies to oversee and protect citizens. Why are we so afraid to be proactive and standardize practices to keep citizens safe against a much more perceivable threat?
If we deny all of the ways that could actually make our country safer and suggest instead that all businesses should be required to be prepared for the event of mass murder, then we have succumbed to the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” mentality.
Before the filing of this civil lawsuit, I did not speak publicly about guns or violence against women regarding this case. I mourned with my community, but I have a voice and I will raise it now. I do not want to see the owner of the studio further victimized. A lack of safe exits was not what caused this tragedy. This violent crime, by a disturbed man, was aided by a culture that repeatedly misses the mark on protecting women and refuses to hinder profits from gun sales.