The shooting on January 6, 2017, at the Fort Lauderdale airport is certainly a grim tale of mass murder. When the 26-year-old killer, Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, was “allegedly” through and surrendered to the police, he had killed five and injured six. His motive, according to his defense team who watched him on the security video we all saw: mental illness in general and schizophrenia in particular. Another untreated, unsupervised bad guy.
Airport Terminals: Is It A Place For Your Guns?
According to news stories, Santiago landed at the Fort Lauderdale airport, retrieved his gun from his checked luggage, loaded it in an airport restroom, walked out onto a baggage concourse, and shot the first people he saw. Video of his actions show some people freezing, some diving to the ground, and some trying to hide behind nearby objects which offered neither cover or concealment. A few did the right thing immediately: they ran, fast, and in a crooked way, out of the area. When you’re in a sanitized, secure, and gun-free zone like an airport, your best bet for survival is to present the smallest possible target and get far away, both at the same time. If you can get behind bullet-stopping cover, so much the better.
These chaotic situations are dangerous to you and the responding airport police. Your best approach when at the airport and you are unarmed is to keep an eye on anyone who could be a potential attacker – especially near the security screening areas, ticket counters, baggage claim, and the curbside pickup and dropoffs. These unsecured and unscreened access points may not have a uniformed police presence, and we already know people have brought guns inside, in an attempt to assault others, as happened with the murder of a TSA officer at LAX in 2013. Bad guys know their chances of getting their guns past TSA checkpoints and into the ticketed passengers-only side are slim, so they may believe shooting it out on the unchecked side of the airport is their only chance.
The list of shootings at US airports is painfully long. An ex-Oklahoma City airport employee shot another airport employee, and then himself. A man who grabbed the gun of an airport police officer and shot and wounded him was shot to death at the Cleveland airport. One man who claimed to have a bomb was shot and killed by federal air marshals at the Miami airport. A man armed with a handgun and a rifle fired two shots and then killed himself at the Houston Bush airport. Two people were killed and four wounded after an Egyptian national opened fire at the El Al (Israel’s national airline) ticket counter at LAX. An unarmed El Al security agent knocked the gunman to the ground and he was killed by an armed El Al security agent. (Lesson for terrorists: Don’t mess with the Israelis.)
Transporting your firearm in the belly of the plane requires you to make certain it’s unloaded, fully disassembled, and in a locked box and you have the key. It’s best to use a “TSA-approved” lock so they can inspect your gun if they so decide, without cutting the lock or damaging the box. Carrying your ammunition in your checked luggage also takes some vigilance. Many air carriers request that you keep your ammo in the “original manufacturer’s box.” I’ve done it that way, carrying only the rounds I need to fill my magazine, and spacing them inside the taped-up box so the sides don’t touch. I also try to secure my ammo box in my luggage so it doesn’t move around. (Stuffing it into my one of my running shoes seems to work best.)
If you’re going to fly with your gun in your luggage, always remember it’s a privilege for your airline to allow you to do so, not your Constitutional right. If the ticket counter agents want to inspect your firearm to make sure it’s completely unloaded and fully disassembled, help them do so, while on your best behavior and using your politest tones. Show them your ammo is safely stored and your gun box can be locked in a way that someone can’t pry open one end. If you’re storing a revolver in your gun box, it makes good sense to open the cylinder and lock it open with a plastic zip tie, so they can see the gun can’t be made operational.I’ve had some airline employees want to see the entire gun, others just take my word for it that it’s unloaded, apart, separate from the ammo, and locked up tight in a box and I have the only key. Be prepared for either response.
Based on the actions of the 9-1-1 hijackers and shootings at airport counters and checkpoints, many airport employees are reasonably concerned about the presence of guns in the airport. They know airports and airplanes are terrorist targets. Some employees may have become desensitized to guns, since they see airport police, sheriff’s deputies, and ICE and Border Patrol agents carrying guns near them daily. Other employees may be negatively hypersensitive to guns and when you tell them you have a CCW permit and want to fly with your gun in your checked luggage, don’t expect a hug. Most airport employees I talk to see the process of checking your firearm to see if it’s unloaded and disassembled, verifying that you’ve correctly filled out the index card they tape to your gun box, and getting you on your way as mostly tedious because it takes them out of their routine. If you plan to fly with your packed gun regularly, ask the ticket counter person for a handful of blank cards, which you can fill out for each trip in advance.
Check out this news coverage about the Fort Lauderdale shooting from ABC News:
Once you’re on the ground, let’s assume your CCW permit is good for the state you’re in. Reassembling and reloading your pistol or revolver upon arrival demands discretion and safety. Racking a round while in an airport restroom stall near the baggage claim may start a stampede out of there. People watch TV and movies and know what that sounds like. You could come out to find five cops pointing their rifles at your head.
Frankly, there are no public places where this activity would not draw unwanted eyes and ears. It’s always best to safely rearm yourself in your personal car, your rental car, (not in the back of a taxi or in front of a now-terrified Uber driver), or a similarly private place.
Have you tried bringing your guns in airport terminals? Share your experiences in the comments below!
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