On Jan. 6, a returned army veteran opened fire in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, killing five and injuring six passengers. He had purchased a one-way ticket from Anchorage, Alaska and checked one bag containing a 9mm pistol with two magazines.
The circumstances surrounding this tragedy point to two massive flaws in US firearm policy: that any individual can bring a gun and several round of ammunition on a plane and that a mentally disturbed individual, likely suffering from post-traumatic stress, cannot easily be stripped of his or her gun.
TSA guidelines about transporting firearms and ammo state that “you may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only.” Passengers can also bring “small arms ammunition” (.75 caliber or below) in the same case as their firearm.
Firearm parts, including ammo, are prohibited in carry-on bags. Attempting to bring a gun through security can result in an arrest and confiscation.
An alarming study, however, revealed that the TSA confiscated more than seven firearms per day in 2015 that passengers attempted to bring in their carry-on bags. In 2016, over 3,300 were confiscated in total, some of which were loaded.
This would be cause for concern even if TSA scanners were nearly perfect. But another study in 2015 found that “officers failed to identify bombs, weapons and other security threats 96 percent of the time during undercover testing.” That means, while unlikely, it is certainly not impossible to board the same plane as someone with a gun in their carry-on bag.
To prevent another incident like the Fort-Lauderdale shooting from occurring, the TSA must improve their scanner technology and prohibit passengers from traveling with ammunition.
Given the extensive number of firearms owned in the United States and the current polarizing status of gun control, federal legislation that would prohibit passengers from bringing guns on planes altogether would never pass. Prohibiting ammo would render it nearly impossible for passengers to access a loaded firearm at any point while traveling.
While this common sense measure should certainly be considered, it does not address the concern of how the shooter, a mentally disturbed individual on the FBI’s radar, was allowed to own a firearm in the first place. Family members testified that the gunman heard voices and had visions after returning from a ten-month tour in Iraq. He believed the US Government and ISIS both sought to control his mind.
Authorities were allegedly so worried that they confiscated his gun and ordered a mental health evaluation.
This same gun was used in the shooting, leading many to wonder how he got it back in the first place.
Paul Callan, a legal analyst for CNN, notes that existing gun laws make it so the gunman “could not be deprived of his constitutional right to possesses a weapon” without “a court order requiring involuntary commitment for mental health treatment.” The gunman was in a sort of legal gray area, since he had been perceived as unstable but not forced to receive treatment.
This shooting points to the need for better background checks of gun owners. Federal laws should be amended so that any individual who exhibits signs of mental illness or instability cannot purchase a firearm and can legally have their firearm seized.
Five innocent people lost their lives last month because a mentally ill individual on an FBI watch list slipped through the cracks. This tragedy could have been avoided with stricter airline safety and background check laws in place.