A group called FlyersRights.org, a consumer rights organization for airline passengers, has made a press release in reaction to the airport shooting which happened in Fort Lauderdale on Friday.
The events that unfolded in Fort Lauderdale are fairly simple to lay out. According to the Washington Post, Esteban Santiago, an Iraq War veteran who has a history of domestic violence and a recent mental hospitalization after going into a FBI field office complaining that his mind was being controlled, and the government was forcing him to watch videos made by DAESH, flew 4,000 miles from Anchorage to Fort Lauderdale. Once he landed, he pulled his checked luggage from the carousel, pulled out a gun and ammunition, then began shooting nearby people randomly until he was out of ammunition. Five people died in Fort Lauderdale that day.
Our first reactions to Fort Lauderdale appear to be flowing out and FlyersRights.org, mistaking the results of a man who has received insufficient medical assistance for terrorism, has called for five emergency actions to be taken.
- Calling out the National Guard for temporary armed airport security.
- Installing airport perimeter security to detect weapons and explosives on persons entering major airports.
- Banning the carrying of live ammunition in checked baggage.
- Increasing canine patrols to detect explosives.
- Placing anyone who is deemed a security threat by a law enforcement agency on the TSA Watch or No Fly list, but with due process means for removal from such lists.
None of these emergency measures would have prevented the shooting which took place in Fort Lauderdale. While Santiago claims to have been forced to watch videos issued by DAESH, the information provided suggests that had a psychological disorder, perhaps caused or aggravated by time in a war zone, and this condition triggered his behavior, not any ideology or conspiracy to commit a terror attack via a shooting in Fort Lauderdale. There is no reason to believe this shooting would be repeated in the near future, regardless of whether measures are taken or not.
Banning the carrying of live ammunition is not a problematic proposal. However, how much it would do to prevent such an event from happening is questionable. Certainly, we would not see the shooting happen in an airport, but what would have prevented Santiago from going to another gathering spot in Fort Lauderdale and commit similar chaos? Santiago could have easily walked into any store selling ammunition, picked up a clip, perhaps more than he had with him, and headed to a crowded beach or mall and done exactly the same.
Yet, such a response would be of minimal inconvenience to passengers. If that change took place, it would not be any huge problem. The other four suggestions are of a much more of a problematic reaction.
A reaction of having the National Guard called for temporary airport security only invites the normalization of military forces policing the public. The entire shooting event took only 80 seconds to unfold, in a crowded area. Would armed police of any sort have been able to mobilize to that area in time to identify the shooter and take them out? Besides, military training is completely out of line with what you want from armed security in a domestic airport. Members of the military being trained are taught to see everyone as a potential threat, even children. How long would it take before a National Guard member mistakenly harmed an innocent member of the public looking for assistance?
Besides, a simpler answer is readily available for any such event. FOX News reported in March 2015 that The American Federation of Government Employees has been asking for certain TSA agents to be armed in order to handle airport attacks, a move that Congress has disapproved of, citing privacy violations. However, the TSA is not trained to consider everyone an immediate threat and would be better suited than the National Guard to prevent another Fort Lauderdale. It still isn’t the simplest answer, but simpler.
Increasing security to detect weapons and explosives, through security perimeters or canine units is not at all a reaction to the issue at hand. The weapon and ammunition being carried into Fort Lauderdale by Santiago were both detected, declared even, and were perfectly legal to be there. There is no indication that weapons and explosives are being snuck into airports at all; current measures are seemingly sufficient. Continued elevation of these precautions only increases public fear, which, in turn, makes for emotional reactions and will likely lead to increased arming and edginess by passengers fueling future tragedies. Fort Lauderdale would have been no safer with these measures in place.
While I am glad that in their reaction they have called for due process being involved in the No Fly List, and TSA Watch List, these lists have not been shown to be effective or even logical. In fact, these lists have been shown in the wake of the September 11 attacks to have been used to engage in political profiling with members of left-wing causes being singled out — the terrorist groups responsible for the attacks we are trying to prevent have all been right-wing groups. Salon reported back in 2002 about how those lists have been used against peaceful left wing activists.
The simplest manner to address the specific issue that happened would be to have TSA-issued containers hold all guns and ammunition and make it so that they can only be unlocked by keys or machines held in the front of the airport. If you wish to have armed guards, that would be the place to place them. Had Santiago not have been able to retrieve his gun at the carousel in Fort Lauderdale, the shooting would not have happened there.
However, this is not a story about terrorism. It’s a story about a shooting in Fort Lauderdale. We have to look at restricting access to firearms for people who have psychological disorders which significantly increase the likelihood of unreasoned violence, as well as due process procedures to ensure that it is not used in a repressive manner. It is a rocky road to walk down as we have seen many a mass shooting come from people who clearly had such issues documented, but it is clear — especially with the No Fly List — that the government can and at times will abuse such power. We need a national debate not on whether, but how to successfully institute such limitations.
We also must work hard to ensure that those who need psychological assistance are able to get sufficient help; every person. We need to also rethink our culture of war that leaves veterans coming back psychologically scarred from the experience. There is much work to do to make this country better, but it does not come from a police state reaction, it comes from creating a society that cares. Another Fort Lauderdale shooting can only be stopped through a reaction which takes the real causes into account.
[Featured Image by an unspecified photographer/Shutterstock]