No easy answers in latest shooting

The killing of five people in the Fort Lauderdale airport Friday points out some holes in the system.

To be sure, there was a way to stop accused gunman Esteban Santiago from his date with violence. He had turned himself in to the FBI in Alaska in November claiming the federal government was controlling his mind and making him watch Islamic State videos. After a psychological examination, he was released. The gun he had with him was returned. Authorities aren’t saying it’s the same gun used in Florida, but when he flew there last week, he had taken one piece of checked luggage: A case for his Walther pistol and some ammo.

He deplaned in Florida, apparently loaded the gun in an airport restroom and then opened fire.

Unlike many of these public shooting cases, we do at least still have the shooter alive to try to figure out just how he got through his exam and got to Florida with access to a gun.

We also have the authorities involved to assess just how that happened, though no answer ends the grief for five innocent people whose mistake that day was being in the airport, nor for the six people wounded or the scores hurt in the resulting airport stampede.

After the incident there were questions about how to tighten security in the soft areas of airports — yes there are still some, post 9/11 rules notwithstanding — including the baggage claims.

Establishing higher levels of security there wouldn’t have prevented this shooting. The gun was properly carried aboard the airliner. The gun was retrieved, and, absent searching all luggage coming off an airplane, the action probably was not preventable. Banning the public without tickets from the baggage claim area would have made no difference either. Truly this one gives credence to the “arm everyone” brigade, but we would then fear hair triggers and collateral damage from among the armed who aren’t trained in the armed forces or as law enforcement professionals.

In the end, this is a case of the result of a free society with mentally disturbed people with access to guns walking around ready to pull the trigger. It’s not usually possible for people to tell the difference when looking at a fellow traveler. It’s not a readily solvable problem in terms of prevention with tighter security, either. Absent traveling while wearing flak jackets, we’re not sure a security effort would fix this one.

To properly protect a public American airport would require banning all non-ticketed people from the terminal and even that wouldn’t have fixed this issue. Nor would banishing the gun from the luggage hold without a major Constitutional fight.

Looking around the world, it’s obvious that the gun isn’t even the always-preferred method of attack, given the use of trucks and vehicles in recent attacks.

No, the best way to combat future versions of Fort Lauderdale require tightening of mental health evaluations, taking seriously threats from people who literally walk into the FBI and say they’re under mind control, and seeking answers as to how Santiago got there and how the mental health and legal system let the people in the airport in Fort Lauderdale down last Friday.

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