After Fort Lauderdale, Go After The GunsJanuary 9, 2017
This op-ed first appeared in USA Today on January 9, 2017.
We need fewer guns that are harder to get. That won’t erode our rights, it’ll make us safer.
Federal investigators allege that in November, an “agitated and incoherent” Esteban Santiago walked into an FBI office and complained that “his mind was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency.” The FBI turned over the case to local authorities and Santiago underwent a mental health evaluation, as he complained of hearing voices and having visions. Earlier in the year, he had been arrested for displaying violent behavior toward his girlfriend and charged with breaking down a door to get to her, smacking her and strangling her.
It appears that none of this prevented him from legally owning a firearm in the United States of America or transporting it on an airplane.
And on Friday, as he flew from Anchorage to Minneapolis to Fort Lauderdale, Santiago carried a gun in his checked luggage. Shortly after landing at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, he picked up his one bag and went into the bathroom. There, he took out his gun, loaded it, walked out to the baggage claim area, and began spraying bullets. Five passengers were killed and six wounded.
The incident constituted the first major American shooting of 2017. But for Florida, a state still reeling from a killer who stormed an LGBT nightclub, murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others in June, this is the second time in less than seven months that an individual who could legally carry a gun used that gun as a tool to perpetrate mass murder.
Tragedies like this underscore the innate danger of all 265 million guns in circulation. America is comparable to other nations when it comes to mental illness rates and crime rates, but we lead the world in several deeply troubling categories: We have more guns in the U.S. than adults. We use our many guns to kill each other at a rate that’s 25 times higher than people in any other high-income country in the world. And our gun-related suicide rate is eight times higher than in other high-income nations.
Guns exist for the sole purpose of killing, and they’ll continue to devastate our families and communities until we dramatically reduce their availability and decrease the number of guns in circulation. It’s no coincidence that states with higher rates of gun ownership also face higher rates of gun violence.
Legally obtained or not, by individuals who are qualified to own them or not, guns are the problem.
And despite what the gun lobby and the politicians they finance want you to believe, having fewer guns in our communities and making them significantly harder to get won’t erode our freedoms or jeopardize our rights. As Canada, Great Britain, Australia and countless other nations have demonstrated, such reforms will pave the way for a safer, healthier, happier and more stable society. If we’re serious about preserving human life, we in America must build a bolder, broader movement that finally tackles the problem at its core. We need to go after guns themselves.
Igor Volsky is the director of Guns Down, which is dedicated to creating a movement for dramatically fewer guns in America. Mark Glaze is a senior adviser to Guns Down and the former executive director of Everytown, the nation’s biggest gun safety group.