How Can We Prevent Another Ft Lauderdale-Style Shooting?

FLL - Ft Lauderdale, Safety/Security

In the wake of the recent shooting in the baggage claim area in Ft Lauderdale Airport’s Terminal 2, there are a lot of questions being asked with few answers so far. The most important question that should be asked is… how can we make sure this won’t happen again?

In many ways, we can’t know the answer to that right now. That’s because the motive still isn’t clear, and without knowing exactly why this happened, it’s hard to say how we could prevent it. From what we do know, it’s easy to point fingers. We should deal with mental illness better, this guy should have been banned from owning a gun after past known issues, etc. That all sounds good, but it’s still based on incomplete facts. What we can talk about now is how things can change from an airline/airport perspective.

The basic facts appear to be that this guy bought a ticket to fly from Anchorage to Ft Lauderdale. At the Anchorage airport, he checked his gun and ammunition properly. After a connection in Minneapolis, he arrived in Ft Lauderdale, claimed his bags, and started shooting. That left 5 people dead, more wounded, and thousands of travelers stuck as the airport remained closed into the following day.

I’ve heard some novel but not entirely useful suggestions on how this could have been avoided. One person, I believe on CNN when I was watching this unfold, suggested that when people check guns, they should have to go through a special baggage claim area to pick them up after travel. That way, an agent would have to hand the gun over to the traveler and ensure that the traveler didn’t appear to pose a threat. I have no idea how an agent is going to play psychiatrist, though I suppose if someone walks up and says “give me my gun, I have to shoot people,” then this could help, but let’s be realistic. We have no idea if it would have prevented this, and I’d guess it’s pretty unlikely.

The most obvious solution is what I’ve heard echoed by many others. We shouldn’t allow people to check guns on commercial flights. That sounds like a nice and neat solution, but it’s also not going to solve anything. This guy legally owned a gun and legally Airline Gun Casechecked it on an airplane. The TSA rules ensure that nobody on an airplane is ever at risk while onboard. The gun needs to be unloaded and in a locked, hard-sided case. Something like the TSA-provided image you see at right.

So what would banning checked guns do? Well, it would mean a shooter would have had to buy a gun in Florida instead of wherever he came from, but anyone with real intent could do that. And then he could walk right into a baggage claim area off the street, even without a ticket, and start firing.

And that brings us to the next suggestion which you always hear after something like this. We shouldn’t allow people into the baggage claim area unless they’re arriving passengers. Ok, so if we ban the transport of guns on commercial aircraft and we prevent people from entering baggage claim areas off the street, then that would indeed protect those people from getting shot in the baggage claim area, but there’s a problem.

Once they leave the baggage claim area, they are again in a public place with a lot of people standing around. It doesn’t matter if there’s a baggage claim carousel there or not. If a shooter really just wants to shoot into a crowd at an airport, then that will always be possible just outside the secure area, wherever that may be.

You could do something crazy like require people to go through security 10 miles away and then take secure shuttles into the airport area. But there again, that’s an easy target with people huddling at the entrances and exits to/from the secure area. Shifting the location of the secure area entrance/exit doesn’t enhance security in a shooting situation. It just changes the location where it occurs.

So we’re left with no easy answers. It goes back to issues surrounding who can own a gun, what types of guns can be owned, how we deal with mental health issues, and possibly how to combat terrorism. Those are the hard issues to solve, but in a case like this, that’s the only way to make a difference.

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70 comments on “How Can We Prevent Another Ft Lauderdale-Style Shooting?

  1. The most-likely-effective suggestion that I read was simply to have more armed police visible at airports.

    Of course, this relies on people making a calculation about how many people they can shoot before they themselves are incapacitated. I think this strategy might help against terrorist-motivated shootings, but maybe not with schizophrenics like this guy.

    1. There are other places where you find crowds of people. That’s the point Cranky is making. Someone who wants to shoot many people will find one of those places. Think movie theater, mall, post office, grocery store, …

      So is your suggestion really to have armed police all over the place?

      1. What you are suggesting is what is done in Israel & even there it has it’s flaws. I don’t believe that type of solution would fly here in the states – no joke intended.

    2. grichard – As has been mentioned elsewhere, the response was pretty fast here. If you have a semi-automatic weapon, you can kill 5 people in the blink of an eye. Short of handcuffing everyone to a uniformed officer as they enter an airport, more police presence wouldn’t have helped here. In general, it can help, but of course, this is something that gets brought up every time there’s a shooting, like the one at LAX in Terminal 3 where the TSA screener was killed.

  2. CF – you’ve written a post which basically encourages a general debate on Americans owning guns. You make the point that landside areas of airports are public places and people right now have free access without any kind of checks. I’ve seen places where passengers are screened before entering airports (India, Sri Lanka, etc) but as you say this just creates soft targets outside the screening area.

    As a European I’m (predictably) anti-gun, and I understand your desire to do something to prevent Fort Lauderdale reoccurring but I’m wondering what a discussion about the overall place and management of guns in society really has to do with aviation.

    1. I think the point of the article was that there are no aviation/airport related changes that would have made a real difference to security.

      He didn’t really discuss having more police, as grichard suggested.

  3. I remember the same points were brought up after the attacks in Brussels and Istanbul. No matter what new security measurements get implemented, so long as there are choke points where people congregate, there will be some degree of risk.

    For a variety of reasons, I have my doubts that there will be any changes in terms of how firearm access or mental health care are approached. The best solution is probably additional police as griachard mentioned.

  4. Hello : You missed the most important part ! If people were ALLOWED to carry in this area. The shooter would have done very little damage if any !

    1. I’m not sure that it is the most important point, but it is valid. There is a high percentage of mass shootings happen in areas that guns are not allowed. I have to assume this goes into the minds of the shooters that there will be little to no other firearms since most people will obey those laws.

    2. Even if people were allowed to carry guns into this area, it would still be a very soft target and very few people would not be carrying anyway.

      A significant majority of people in baggage claim are arriving passengers waiting for their luggage. They would not be in possession of any weapons as these would not have been allowed on the plane.

      1. Can we please stop with the NRA wet dream of if everybody was armed things like this wouldn’t happen. I’m sick of it!

        My first question is; what psych meds was this fella taking or not taking?

        Secondly – who was making sure he was on his meds?

          1. Most likely not – they will be promoted out just like Sears as my parents told me about their practaces years back when they both worked there.

    3. According to press reports, an armed officer was there in less than 90 seconds. I would doubt that any untrained civilian would have been able to act in much less time than that. Having more people armed would just have caused more problems with potentially more death of innocent people. Imagine if after the shooter started firing, three others pulled out guns. Then the officer appears. What next? Who is the actual shooter?

  5. The only possible way I feel that this could of be prevented is not being able to carry ammunition on flights with your declared weapon. Yes it would have been possible for him to leave the airport buy ammo and come back, or wouldn’t prevent anyone just coming from the streets to do it.

    This guy obviously had mental issues and should of been institutionalized or sent for treatment a month ago when he walked into the FBI building in Anchorage.

    Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a great answer to prevent the shooting, just the usual after process more police with guns patrolling the airports.

    1. Banning ammo was my thought as well, but I’ve thought that was a good idea anyways since in an airplane fire, the ammunition could potentially ignite. I realize that firearms cases would probably prevent any damage in most cases, but I can see situations where they wouldn’t (e.g. if the case is damaged in the same event that starts the fire).

      It’s a low-probability event, but it doesn’t seem any less farfetched than someone hijacking a plane with a pair of nail clippers.

      1. Ammunition subjected to high temps doesn’t really do much other than pop like a champagne cork, and doesn’t penetrate much at all. Similarly, gunpowder placed in a line on the ground doesn’t explode at all, it just burns quickly.

        Ammunition needs a tightly enclosed vessel (like the chamber of a gun) to get bullets up to any kind of speed to cause much damage, as the Myth busters showed.

        Gunpowder, explosives, and primers by themselves in any kind of quantity are already banned from planes AFAIK (considered hazmat) and required to be shipped by ground.

    2. Michael – How does banning ammo really help here? It’s the same thing as if you banned guns from checked baggage. He’d just have to leave the airport to get what he needed and come back. If it proves true that this guy bought a ticket, checked his firearms properly, and then flew all the way to Ft Lauderdale just to open fire in the airport, then banning ammo would have just delayed things.

      The only thing banning ammo would help with is a crime that’s not pre-meditated. Something that’s done in the heat of the moment can be deferred by having a waiting period, but that doesn’t seem likely to be what happened here.

  6. Specifically tegarding how to de-motivate the terroristic aspect of any of these types of killings, many of which are suicide missions as well, actually listening to the terrorists might help: end western military intervention in the Middle East and much of this theatrical “security” aspect could be scaled back.

    That’s what Professor Robert Pape suggests:

    Then maybe we would have resources more focused on mentally disturbed non-Middle Easterners walking into an FBI office and claiming terrorists are controlling him and then later killing people in a known gun-restricted place.

  7. Guns must be banned on all passenger flights. Enough of this Second Amendment excuse-the amendment was meant for another times, well before planes and airports and modern terrorism. People’s lives are at risk.

    1. And then what, when someone checks an axe or machete and then chops up several people in the baggage claim do we ban those too? Where does it stop? ISIS terrorists have shown us that a large truck is far more effective at killing than a single firearm. Nobody is talking about banning trucks. You simply cannot legislate your way to safety by banning the tool because there is always another weapon available.

      We need to focus on the person and not the weapon of choice. The ONLY way to stop more of these incidents is to stop the person before they decide to commit the crime. Once a person has the will, they find a way as history has shown us over and over and over again.

      1. The difference here is that there is no other tool whose sole purpose is to kill as many people as effectively as possible. You rarely hear about mass stabbings and if you do (as was the case at Ohio State recently and at a school in China a few years ago), there are usually significantly fewer fatalities, if any. The risk of a vehicle-based attack can be mitigated simply with concrete berms, as has been effectively done around the world for decades. However, it’s always going to be hard to spot a concealed handgun and even armed bystanders (or police) will need several seconds to orient themselves, by which time a lot of damage can be done. I

        I’m not sure how this ever gets better without cutting down on the number of guns in circulation, which would be really hard to do at this point. But, thinking of the self-defense argument, there are many ways to protect oneself that don’t require a weapon designed for mass killing.

        1. > and even armed bystanders (or police) will need several seconds to orient themselves

          And then people need to sort out in the chaos who is a “good guy with gun” and who is the “bad guy with gun”.

          Maybe we need to pass a law that bad guys with guns need to wear red coats.

  8. The problem is the madman, not the gun or the location. If someone is going to go on a rampage, there are plenty of targets (library, shopping mall, sports venue, restaurants) other than airports that can shake us. These madmen seem to be fanaticized with ISIS. Maybe if we get rid of ISIS some of the problem goes away. Having heavily armed security at ever inch of an airport is not a practical (from a cost perspective) solution.

    1. That’s part of what makes this case so interesting. It looks like he flew across the entire continent with a plan of shooting. Why he went through the hassle of buying a plane ticket, getting on a long flight, dealing with a checked firearm, etc., instead of going to a crowded building locally is a question worth asking ourselves.

      1. I agree with your comment, TimH. I’m also curious as to why he took the steps he did to perform his horrible act instead of just doing the same thing at the baggage claim area of the Anchorage airport. And why FLL instead of MCO or MIA or any other Florida airport? Time will (hopefully) give us answers to such questions, and thus further understanding, so steps toward a solution can be taken.

      2. Perhaps Catherine in his mind by flying to FLL it would be easier in not being suspected. The FBI saw signs & were ignored.

  9. I think it’s all about making it harder for this kind of thing to happen. We won’t ever rule it completely out, but we can take steps to reduce the frequency. Banning guns in checked bags would help. More visible cops or guards at airports would help. There has to be a way to make it less likely.

  10. It may seem simple, but many of these incidents occur at soft targets and the answer can be as simple as increasing deterrence. We Americans need to accept the sight of armed paramilitary law enforcement in our airports not unlike is seen around the world. Anyone flying through CDG gets a good look at the Gendarmie in full battle gear toting automatic weapons. Replace TSA with Air Force Reserve units and make airport police a more visible imposing presence.

      1. It’s a fair counterpoint, but I think the discussion is about legal gun ownership in the US being a mitigating factor in solving shootings in public places. The majority of damage in Brussels was done with explosives and most Americans don’t have ready access to those as they do guns.

  11. Cranky, you offer the perfect solution in your article, but many of the the comments BTL underline why that won’t work in the US. It’s the psyche of the USA that needs to change, not policies on weapons on aircraft – but the rest of the world know that that isn’t going to happen.

    The second amendment is simply not worth it.

  12. Just want to chime in that banning guns from being checked planes is not a good idea. There is a whole subset of specialized travel catering towards hunters and sportsman, especially out West.

    1. I think that banning guns from checked baggage is highly unlikely to happen, whether people think it’s a good idea or not.

      Can I ask your honest opinion about the related concept of an ammo ban that someone mentioned above? (I can see an argument either for a total ammo ban, or say, allowing for no more than 8 rounds of ammo or something – enough to load a handgun if you wanted to carry it on you for personal safety, not enough to start a mass shooting event.)

      I realize that there’s some potential hassles there too, but if you’re dealing with say, a tour company specializing in hunting trips, you’d think that they could be tasked with having ammo available. I can see how a gun owner might want to take his/her own firearm with them hunting, but the case that you need to bring your own ammo is a lot weaker to me.

      (Obviously, there’s arguments to be made that not all ammo is easy to come by in every destination, etc., but no policy is ever perfect.)

      1. It’s the user, not the tool.

        A lot of shooters, especially competition shooters and big game shooters, load their own ammunition by hand to tailor it to their gun.

  13. The same people that are concerned about this, text and drive.
    People have a horrible understanding of risk.

  14. Banning them in the checked bag might not be politically possible.

    There are a lot of checked rifles during the hunting season.

  15. The issue is not the gun persay, it is the basket case of a healthcare system we have. The number of people with mental health issues that cannot get help because of the cost is insane. If the US is a first world country (something I begin to question from time to time) then health care should be provided to everyone by the government as a single-payer system. That way a person can seek mental health help without losing their shirt. I’ve got “good” insurance and I still have a $6k out of pocket. That’s insane!

    To go along with that mental health issues need to be destigmatized. Too many people don’t seek help because the media/society make it clear that if you have a mental health issue then you are defective. That’s bull! Having bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, etc is no different than having acid reflux or high blood pressure; it’s controllable if proper medical help is received.

    Once we as a nation have dealt with the mental health issues then we should evaluate what can be done with the guns (not much likely).

    1. As someone with a close relative that suffers from bipolar disorder, and both of whose parents worked in the mental health profession, while I agree that the stigma is an issue, it is a lot more complicated than that. For one, even for the most serious issues that require hospitalization, current laws limit how long you can keep the person. As soon as the condition is controlled by meds and they are no longer a danger to themselves or others, you have to cut them loose. After that, even for someone voluntarily taking outpatient treatment, there’s very little you can do to force that person to take their medication once they’re released. And it’s not just cost – you can give the pills away for free, and some people would still quit taking them. Those medications are not for the faint of heart, and the side effects can be nasty.

      1. I’m not saying it’s a magic pill, but the common thread in many mass shootings is mental health issues. I have 3 family members who are bi-polar, 1 who is schizophrenic, and 1 with clinical OCD so I’m well aware of the issues here. And yes the laws around holding a mentally unstable person can make things more difficult (have had to deal with that only recently unfortunately), but we need to get people the help they need, cost be darned. The problem we have as a country is that we link healthcare with employment and unless you have money then it’s very difficult to get the help you need.

        It’s not easy, but how many people could really use the help and just can’t get it or afford it. As a country we wring our hands over gun access, but the mental health issues are just brushed under the carpet.

        1. Jason H, you are absolutely right. Even if a mentally ill person wants treatment and has insurance for it, it is almost impossible to get the long-term hospital or residential-treatment-center care that many people with serious or multiple mental illness/es must have to stabilize and then become healthy enough to function in society. Medication, even if taken, is only one prong of mental health treatment. We need to make long-term, multi-prong mental health treatment available to everyone.

  16. Yeah, to reduce the risk things that things like this happen, we’d need to change gun laws and address our mental health problems better. Until we do this, mass shooting are always a possibility.

  17. The obvious solution, reduce the number of guns in circulation. The Aussies did it, the Americans are willing to piss away all their rights and freedoms, except the ability to have a gun. Without addressing that, guns are easy to obtains, and you end up with 10x more mass shootings than other modern Western democracies.

  18. Just stop people from CHECKING-IN ANY FIREARMS – ever. You wan’t to go hunting in Montana ? – Drive, buy a gun when you get there, whatever. Why do millions have to suffer because of the nut-jobs among us. We’re doing everyday things but because of crazy people being allowed to roam freely around us, we have to hope for armed guards and gunmen every ten feet. PROHIBIT AND PUNISH – when did that stop ??

  19. To me, the simplest way to reduce this kind of thing is (as others have also suggested) not to allow both guns and ammunition to be checked by a single passenger on the same flight. Nothing will completely prevent violence if someone is truly determined to do it. But anything that can be done to make it more difficult and / or time consuming to perpetrate a violent crime should be considered.

    1. P.S. I realize my suggestion won’t account for two people planning a violent act, but, again, the idea is to make it more difficult and / or time consuming to do so.

  20. Could be a business opportunity for third-party FFL brokers that would operate from airports. Introduce a law that requires an instant background check as you “check” the weapon with the broker that works with the airline. The weapon is delivered to the FFL broker at the other end of the flight where the passenger would pick it up. All this for a fee, of course.

    1. Actually, you can legally ship your own guns to yourself, AFAIK. The USPS doesn’t like them, but FedEx and UPS will take them.

  21. The bottom line is associating this shooting with aviation is incorrect. The man had a gun in a public place and murdered innocent people. How is this different than what happens in Chicago on the streets, or in schools? He could have found many other areas of public gathering to inflict damage on.

    Its not an aviation problem, its a society problem. I think Cranky had a great analysis of the facts and his conclusion (if I may interpret) is this is a symptom of a larger problem. You can’t solve it with more aviation security. The fact that this happened in an airport is irrelevant to the larger issue involved.

    In my book this is the belief that anyone in America can and should be able to own a firearm that has no productive use other than the murder of other humans. But I am not going on a political rant on an aviation website. . . . today. . . .

  22. It is pretty simple. No matter what you do stuff like this is always going to happen. No amount of laws is going to change it as this article lays put but dossnt come out and say.

    1. It’s perfectly possible to do things which dramatically reduce the risk of these kinds of events. Laws can and do make a difference. Australia and the UK have both demonstrated that one possible reaction to mass shootings is to take effective action.

      The real issue is the complete lack of any real ambition in the US political system for any of this to stop. That’s certainly not an aviation problem. But choosing to let this go on and on is a political choice, not an unstoppable force of nature.

  23. I’m not American so it’s not really my place to comment on gun control/mental health care in the US. But having said that, it’s hard not to point out that from where us Australians are sitting, the system you guys live in appears to have some serious flaws.

    We had a pretty bad mass shooting in 1996, in Tasmania. The shooter, Martin Bryant, killed 35 people and injured 23 others. The community was shocked by this, and our prime minister enacted gun buybacks to remove most firearms from the community (not all – farmers and hunters can still get rifles/shotguns with a license), but in particular semi-automatic/automatic weapons. Since then, I think we’ve had no mass shootings (there have been 4 or 5 events where less than 5 people have died, which is one definition of mass shooting). It’s not a perfect solution but in more than 20 years the results speak for themselves.

    I get that it’s a politicized issue and the right to bear arms is part of US culture/history. But it tends to lead to some pretty awful results.

    1. Well, you are talking about crazy Americans here. Couple of mass shootings here and there (still a very small part of overall murder landscape ) will not change the prescription that having a gun in your house (purse, car, pocket) makes you much safer than all these stupid armless Europeans.

  24. As AJ alludes to above the solution is in the control of the weapons. Take the guns away and innocent people will live.

    1. John – Certainly taking the guns away on a macro level would have some sort of impact (though many can argue what that would be). But specifically just banning guns from checked luggage isn’t going to make a difference.

  25. Why can’t there be a secure site outside of each airport. Where these weapons are sent to outside of the actual airport. Once the passenger arrives and claims his baggage. He/she can go outside of the airport to this secure location and pick up the weapon. But of course a security check must be done on this person long before the discussion of even traveling with a weapon.

    1. Lolita – That sounds like a whole lot of hassle and cost for not much benefit. So the person goes offsite and gets a gun. Then he comes back and shoots people in the terminal. It may have saved a few minutes, but it doesn’t stop the problem.

  26. There is a very easy solution to this problem that everyone seems to be missing! Airports and other public spaces simply need to provide gun racks stocked with loaded guns at common gathering places like baggage claim so that concerned citizens can defend themselves should any trouble arise and their own gun was left at home or locked in their luggage.

  27. What about allowing the transport of firearms as OK but ammunition must be purchased at the destination – i.e., ammunition cannot be transported via commercial aircraft at all.

  28. By not allowing people to have guns with them in a given area makes that area a soft target. People like this go after soft targets because they want to cause damage due to terrorism ideals or mental illness or suicide by cop goals.
    The guy who did this would have had a hard time buying a gun in Florida as he is not a resident of that state. He likely would have just skipped the flight and shot people at his home airport, etc.
    In this situation the TSA took away the right s of people to carry firearms onboard for personal protection and then failed to protect those same people leaving them open to harm.

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