Days before airport shooting, Florida lawmakers worked on bill to allow guns in airports

Security officials worry that areas like baggage claim are already too vulnerable.

Law enforcement officers at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport on Friday. CREDIT: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Law enforcement officers at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport on Friday. CREDIT: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

On Friday, a gunman opened fire in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport airport in Florida, killing at least five people and wounding eight.

The incident, which was the sixth mass shooting in the U.S. so far this year, reportedly began after the suspect retrieved a pistol from his checked case, went to the bathroom to load it, and opened fire inside baggage claim.

But just last week, Florida lawmakers began rallying support for SB 140, a state bill that would repeal laws which, among other things, ban guns in airport terminals like the one where the shooting occurred. If passed, the legislation would allow those with concealed carry licenses to bring guns into passenger terminals.

In the wake of the shooting, Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott (R) was already calling to keep politics out. “It’s no time to be political,” he said.

Florida’s bill was sent to committee just three days before the shooting. It was deemed to have a high likelihood of passing out of the Senate Judiciary Committee; similar legislation had died in committee previously because the former chair didn’t schedule a vote, but he lost his bid for reelection. The new chair, Greg Steube (R), is a sponsor of the bill and huge proponent of getting rid of gun-free zones.

“If you want to kill as many people as possible before the cops arrive then you are likely to go to a place where law-abiding citizens can’t carry,” Steube said when he filed the bill. “That’s what we’ve seen, time and time again and why I think we shouldn’t have them.”

The bill was also assigned to a committee chaired by a Republican senator who sponsored the House version of Florida’s “stand your ground” law and another chaired by a Republican who voted in favor of allowing concealed carry guns on college campuses.

The bill has to make it through the assigned committees before it can be considered by the senate during the legislative session that starts in March.

Current U.S. regulations allow those with proper licensing paperwork to check unloaded guns in their luggage so long as they declare the weapons and pack them in locked, hard-sided cases. Ammunition can also be checked in locked, hard-sided cases; small arms ammunition can be checked in the same case as a gun.

Rather than looking to allow more guns in airport terminals, however, security officials are worried there aren’t enough regulations to keep them out. “I am very concerned about a weapon in this airport,” Patrick Gannon, deputy executive director for law enforcement & homeland security at Los Angeles International Airport, told the Wall Street Journal. “This incident highlights that concern.”

Baggage claim areas are particularly troubling because there is so much activity, and so far most security is focused on theft, not violence.

The country has already seen shootings in and around airports in recent years. In 2013, a gunman opened fire outside the security zone of a terminal in Los Angeles International Airport, killing a Transportation Security Administration officer and wounding others. Earlier that same year, a gunman opened fire inside a terminal at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport before turning the gun on himself.