The horrific mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport this month served as a political weapon by two conservative Republican legislators to further bolster their push to repeal the ban on concealed weapons in airport terminals.
The gunman, Esteban Santiage, pulled his weapon out of his checked luggage and started firing, killing five and wounding six. Days after that atrocity, state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, took the opportunity to promote their legislation allowing Florida’s 1.7 million residents with concealed-weapons permits to take their guns into airports.
While Raburn’s bill only addresses airport terminals, Steube’s comprehensive measure those permit holders to carry handguns, whether openly or concealed, into elementary and secondary public school, public university and college campuses, local government and legislative meetings, and career centers.
The standard narrative expressed by proponents of expanding gun rights hinges on a single statement: “Good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.” An FBI report of active shooter incidents refutes that claim. The agency studied 160 active shooter episodes over 13 years and found exactly one of those situations was halted by an armed civilian. However, unarmed citizens “safely and successfully restrained the shooter” in 21 incidents.
In addition, in 45 cases where law enforcement engaged a shooter, nine officers were killed and 28 were wounded. How would civilians without active-shooter training caught in a chaotic scene with adrenalin pumping fare? Would edgy civilians hit a target that highly trained officers missed? Especially since Florida’s requirements for obtaining a concealed-carry license fall far short of creating sharp shooters. One three-hour course is all that’s dictated. There’s no written test. Marksmanship and weapons management are not tested either, though the applicant must prove completion of a firearms safety or training course.
Will opening up gun-free zones strengthen public safety as legislators claim?
Steube advanced that position within days of the Orlando gay nightclub terror that took 49 lives in the worst mass shooting in modern American history. In a statement, he wrote: “Did the law preventing guns in bars prevent the terrorist from walking into a nightclub and killing 49 people? No, it only prevented law abiding citizens from defending themselves and made the location a target.”
Yet there was someone there armed, a veteran Orlando police officer working security for Pulse nightclub that evening. He traded gunshots with Omar Mateen near the club’s entrance. But he was outgunned as Mateen was heavily armed, with a .223 caliber AR type rifle and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. Two other Orlando officers arrived just a couple minutes later and also engaged Mateen in a hail of gunfire. They didn’t stop the madman, either.
In an interview with the Herald’s Editorial Board just days ago, the president and CEO of Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, brought up a point cited in several of our editorials. If a gunman starts shooting inside a terminal and a concealed-carry permit holder returns fire, how will a law enforcement officer coming upon this scene react — without knowing the motives of either shooter and who to target? Shoot first and ask questions later is not a sound public policy.
Overall, Piccolo did express ambivalence about the legislation.
The risk that verbal confrontations can intensify into deadly exchanges on college campuses, government meetings, bars and elsewhere is left out of the debate. But as road rage incidents prove, some people only need the slightest antagonistic provocation to pull out a firearm and shoot out of anger — and ignore the consequences.
Firearms are plentiful, especially in Florida — the state with the most concealed-carry permits, 1.7 million. All 50 states have laws that allow qualified individuals to carry certain concealed firearms in public, either without a permit or after obtaining a license from a designated government authority at the state and/or local level. Yet the gun lobby persists in its drive to repeal any limitations on firearms.
Year after year, survey after survey, the majority of the American people — both liberal and conservative politically — support sensible gun laws. In a January 2016 poll about the country’s law or policies on guns, Gallup found 24 percent of respondents were somewhat dissatisfied and 38 percent were very dissatisfied. On requiring private gun sales and gun show purchases to be subjected to background checks, a Pew Research Center survey in August 2015 revealed that 85 percent of the population agreed — 79 percent Republicans, 88 percent Democrats.
This is Steube’s third attempt at loosening Florida’s gun restrictions. The Legislature should once again reject this ill-advised legislation.