In the wake of the recent shooting incident at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, the usual mainstream media outlets and politicians are circulating a flurry of new gun control proposals. Instead of ignoring the proposals because “this is Trump’s America,” let’s take a quick look and see what impact (if any) they’d have on actual gun safety.
Ban Firearms from Checked Baggage on Airplanes
The most obvious “solution” the civilian disarmament community: ban firearms from being carried in baggage. If the Ft. Lauderdale shooter had been prohibited from checking his pistol on the flight from Anchorage, he couldn’t have launched his heinous attack.
Firearms are currently allowed in airline passengers’ checked baggage provided that (1) they are unloaded, (2) the ammunition is secured in a separate compartment (like a cardboard box or sealed magazine) so that it won’t find its way into the gun, (3) the firearm is in a locked hard-sided container to prevent access or theft, and (4) it is declared to the airline on check-in.
Firearms are inaccessible to the passenger while they’re traveling within the secure areas of the airport and while on the plane. They’re only returned to their owner when he or she leaves the airport’s secure area (before TSA check-in).
While the police reduces the probability of someone flying to a destination and using their firearm for evil, it doesn’t significantly reduce the risk of an attack in the baggage claim area. (In 1972, members of the Japanese Red Army terrorist group retrieved their guns from baggage claim and opened fire at Israel’s Lod airport.) That said . . .
Baggage claim, as well as the check-in desks and curbside drop-off areas, are outside what is considered the “secure areas” of airports — where access is controlled by the TSA through security checkpoints. There’s nothing to stop someone from walking into any airport off the street with a firearm and opening fire.
That’s exactly what happened at Los Angeles International airport in 2013, in a state with some of the most restrictive firearms laws in the country. Prohibiting firearms from checked baggage on airlines simply moves any potential problem from baggage claim at the destination to the check-in desk at the departure end.
As with any gun control proposal, law-abiding Americans would be the only group affected by such a law. Hunting and sport shooting is a huge industry; tens of thousands of enthusiasts fly across the country to hunt. Not only do all of these Americans have the right to keep and bear arms (subject to federal state laws), but they contribute mightily to the U.S. economy.
If checked firearms are banned, hunters and sport shooters would need to ship their firearms ahead of time. Anyone concerned with their firearm’s accuracy, reliability, security and condition. In short, eliminating the ability for gun owners to travel with their firearms would inconvenience thousands and cost a fortune in lost revenue for small businesses.
Ban Ammunition from Baggage on Airplanes
A less restrictive proposal calls for banning ammunition in checked baggage. The logic here: if the Ft. Lauderdale shooter didn’t have ammunition with him, he would’ve been prevented from committing his attack.
While this proposal might seem more “reasonable” — passengers can still transport firearms while “doing something to increase safety” — it makes less sense from a risk reduction perspective.
Assuming a perpetrator wants to follow the same outline as the Ft. Lauderdale attack, they’d have a firearm. He could travel to the nearest Wal-Mart, buy a box of ammo, return to the airport and start shooting. Sure, it adds another step to the process which might increase the deterrence factor. But odds a person willing to fly across the country with a firearm to shoot up an airport is willing to take a 10 minute taxi ride to pick up some ammo.
For hunters and competition shooters the impact would be significant in terms of convenience. Ammunition would need to either be purchased at the destination or shipped ahead to the shooting range. This regulation would create more room in a hard sided container for more guns and make the bags a bit lighter. But the logistics of shipping ammunition can be a PITA. If the ammo package doesn’t arrive in time (especially in a remote area), that can ruin an entire trip.
Make Airports a “Gun Free Zone” Nationally
Another proposal: make all airports “gun-free zones,” creating something akin to The Gun Free School Zones Act of 1994. This proposal that has the approval of the disgraced former chair of the DNC) Debbie Wasserman Shultz. The logic behind this argument is that if we can make airports gun-free zones, no violence involving firearms could possibly take place there.
The problem: “gun free zones” makes people less safe. Countless incidents of firearms-related violence have taken place in “gun-free zones” from elementary schools to middle schools to high schools and colleges. Proclaiming a location as a “gun-free” does nothing to actually deter individuals who are hell-bent on mass murder.
While “gun-free zones” don’t increase security, they reduce the ability for victims of an attack to fight back. The best way to stop an active shooter is to shoot back. Whether the person returning fire is a police officer or a private citizen doesn’t matter — the bullets are just as deadly. The perpetrator is killed or delayed in the exchange of gunfire. Sometimes, the mere presence of a credible threat makes active shooters stop and turn themselves in to authorities.
Deliver Baggage with Firearms to a Different Location
One of the least effective proposals: segregate baggage containing firearms and deliver those items at a different location. While this satisfies the need to “do something,” risk reduction would be insignificant. Individuals who gather their firearms at a different location will still be able to load them up and walk back into the airport to commit their crimes. It would add maybe five minutes to the time between getting off an airplane and committing the intended massacre.
Make Baggage Claim Areas “Secure”
The final proposal I’ve heard being thrown around: add extra security to baggage claim. There’s two ways to do this, which are either cheap and inconvenient or expensive and quickly implemented.
If we wanted to implement a solution as quickly and as cheaply as possible extending the “secure area” of the airport to include the baggage claim would be the way to do it. Airports are currently configured such that baggage claim is at the same security level as the street out front. Anyone has access and there’s no security measures to check for dangerous items.
These areas could be treated as a “step down” security zone, one where you can access your checked luggage at the baggage claim but no unscreened individuals can enter and re-entry to the departures area is prohibited. Luggage containing firearms can be picked up at a designated location outside this secure zone, theoretically ensuring the safety of those still inside.
While this scenario maintains the security of those inside baggage claim it doesn’t help those in the check-in area or passengers waiting outside for transportation. It simply moves the location of the massacre from a relatively controlled environment inside the terminal to an open and uncontained environment. The perpetrator will still be given access to their firearm and be able to return to use it on other passengers, no matter how far away the new special firearms retrieval zone is placed.
There’s another problem with this scenario. It makes the pick-up process more complicated for many individuals.
Instead of waiting in the climate controlled environment of the baggage claim area, people meeting passengers would have to wait outside the newly created secure zone for them to emerge. In most airports, you’d have to locate the front doors of the baggage claim at the end of the secure area, forcing everyone else outside.
The better option: increase the security already present in the airport, supplementing the police officers on duty with additional manpower.
Ironically, the same politicians who think allowing private citizens to carry a concealed firearm is “adding fuel to the fire” and that “solving violence with violence is wrong” would approve of adding government-funded good guys with guns to baggage claim.
Even so, adding more guns to the situation in the hands of good guys would reduce the response time to an active shooter and increase the survivability of such an incident.