Amy Mercer: It is not illegal to threaten a school shooting in Florida

middle school shooting

Just days ago, 17 people, mostly teenagers, were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. There were warning signs, and one of them was an online posting under the shooter’s name that dictated “I’m going to be a professional school shooter” on a YouTube video.

These types of threats can be a critical indicator that intervention is necessary in an individual’s life to prevent violence to others. However, under current law, these kinds of threats are not illegal. Individuals can literally post online the time and location of a planned mass shooting, and individuals cannot be prosecuted.

In 2014, a Sarasota teen posted on Twitter “Can’t wait to shoot up my school,” and “It’s time. School getting shot up on Tuesday,” with a photo of a gun being placed in his backpack. In 2016, an appellate court found there was not enough to prosecute him under the current law.

Shockingly, it is not illegal to threaten mass shootings like at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida. Senate Bill 310 would change that.

SB 310 will allow law enforcement to act on a broader range of threats, including those made on social media. The bill makes it a third-degree felony to create and send certain written threats, including electronic communications, to kill or do great bodily injury.

There is a misconception that a law like this is already on the books and that law enforcement can assess, and take action, on threats made online. Although online threats have the potential to be an extreme danger to our communities, law enforcement officers’ hands are tied when they try to act on non-specific threats made through digital platforms. The warning signs aren’t missed, they just don’t have the tools we need to act on them.

In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, it is critical that we pass this legislation. Gov. Rick Scott has made it a priority to enhance criminal penalties for threats to schools including those made through social media in Friday’s release of his priorities to combat school shootings. We need to move with urgency, just two weeks remain in our regular legislative session.

Law enforcement officers need the tools to protect our schools and our communities in today’s digital age. This bill allows law enforcement to do their job and act on the warning signs.

This bill is supported by a bipartisan group of legislators looking to give law enforcement more authority to keep us safe.

Now is the time to act.


Amy Mercer is the executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. The Florida Police Chiefs Association is the third largest state police chiefs association in the United States. It is composed of more than 900 of the state’s top law enforcement executives. FPCA serves municipal police departments, airport police, college and university police, private business and security firms, as well as federal, state and county law enforcement agencies. The FPCA has members representing every region of the state.

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  • Karen

    February 24, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    I agree 1000%!!
    Include threats against the President, law enforcement personnel, legislators & citizens!

  • Jimmie T Smith

    February 25, 2018 at 7:39 am

    Actually we made it illegal to threaten the use of violence with a firearm and peoplem have been procecuted.

    Jimmie T Smith

    • David Fitton

      February 25, 2018 at 9:46 am

      The Florida Senate and House unanimously passed the Anti-Terroristic Threat & Public Servant Protection Act of 2016 (Senate Bill 436). Senate Bill 436 criminalizes threats made against law enforcement officers, state attorneys, firefighters, judges, elected officials and the families of these public servants

  • Jimmie T Smith

    February 25, 2018 at 7:42 am

    Actually we made it illegal to threaten the use of violence with a firearm and people have been procecuted.

    Jimmie T Smith

  • Nelson Andreu

    February 25, 2018 at 9:13 am

    Well said Director Mercer

  • Vernon Kuhns

    February 26, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    In addition to federal law making it illegal to make a terrorist threat, here are two Florida statutes that could have been used in this case:

    “1. 250.28 Military support to civil authorities.— When an invasion or insurrection in the state is made or threatened, or whenever there exists a threat to security, a terrorist threat or attack, a riot, a mob, an unlawful assembly, a breach of the peace, or resistance to the execution of the laws of the state, or imminent danger thereof, which civil authorities are unable to suppress, the Governor, or in case the Governor cannot be reached and the emergency will not permit awaiting his or her orders, the successor as provided in s. 14.055, or, if the appropriate successor cannot be reached and the emergency will not permit awaiting his or her orders, the Adjutant General, shall issue an order to the officer in command of the body of troops best suited for the duty for which a military force is required, directing the officer to proceed with the troops, or as many as necessary, with all possible promptness, to respond to the invasion, insurrection, threat to security, terrorist threat or attack, riot, mob, unlawful assembly, breach of the peace, or resistance to execution of the laws of the statet”…

    “(c) “Credible threat” means a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm. It is not necessary to prove that the person making the threat had the intent to actually carry out the threat. The present incarceration of the person making the threat is not a bar to prosecution under this section”…

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