Because nobody in the news media understands how the air-travel watch lists work, they’re missing an important angle to this Fort Lauderdale shooting. And that’s a shame.

Here is the chain of events that should have prevented this guy from flying with a gun in his checked bag, and thus being able to easily retrieve that gun at the airport baggage claim area and start shooting this afternoon at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

1. The FBI in Alaska had this guy for questioning two months ago after he walked into the office and acted in a manner that indicated psychosis.

(UPDATE–From the New York Times today: According to a senior law enforcement official, the gunman, identified as Esteban Santiago, 26, walked into the F.B.I. office in Anchorage in November and made disturbing remarks that prompted officials to urge him to seek mental health care. Mr. Santiago, appearing “agitated and incoherent,” said “that his mind was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency,” the official said.)

The FBI referred Santiago to local cops, who psych-warded him. Clearly, there was reason for the FBI to be interested in this person enough to take action and to make a report.

2. The FBI itself maintains the various “terrorist” watch lists, which have tens of thousands of names on them for various, shifting reasons, some of them trivial, some more serious. Airlines are required to share information about each traveler for the purposes of these lists — such as a guy who the FBI was had been sufficiently concerned about, whereupon his poor military record and reason for discharge would also have been available for assessment. In other words, there was a report.

3. So today, this same Santiago flies with a gun in his checked bag. It’s permitted to fly with a firearm in your checked bag  — provided you follow certain rules, and provided you notify the airline that you have a gun in that checked bag. The killer does this. Therefore, the airline knows that the killer, who should have been included on a watch list — is flying with a gun. Remember, the watch lists are not the same as the no-fly list, which the media constantly misunderstand, but rather are much wider lists of selectees that require a flier to get a kind of second look at the airport, and you would think especially when known to be checking a bag with a gun. That second look should have precluded this specific killer from flying with a gun.

Here’s the TSA rule on checking guns:

Transporting Firearms and Ammunition

You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted. Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage.

Contact the TSA Contact Center with questions you have regarding TSA firearm regulations and for clarification on what you may or may not transport in your carry-on or checked baggage.

Firearms

  • When traveling, comply with the laws concerning possession of firearms as they vary by local, state and international governments.
  • Declare each firearm each time you present it for transport as checked baggage. Ask your airline about limitations or fees that may apply.
  • Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock.
  • Firearm parts, including magazines, clips, bolts and firing pins, are prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.
  • Replica firearms, including firearm replicas that are toys, may be transported in checked baggage only.
  • Rifle scopes are permitted in carry-on and checked baggage.
 

United States Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 44, firearm definitions includes: any weapon (including a starter gun) which will, or is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; the frame or receiver of any such weapon; any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; and any destructive device. As defined by 49 CFR 1540.5 a loaded firearm has a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm.

Ammunition

  • Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.
  • Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm. Read the requirements governing the transport of ammunition in checked baggage as defined by 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(8).
  • Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm.

Read the guidelines for law enforcement officers flying armed.

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