For purposes of full disclosure, I want to say right up front that I like guns.
I own guns and I enjoy shooting them. Sometimes I compete with other gun owners at events where we punch lots of holes in paper and knock over steel targets with handguns, rifles and shotguns.
I know that in some circles this qualifies me as a paranoid miscreant. So be it.
Lots of times I hear those in policy-making positions decry the number of guns in America. Then they attempt to pass what they see as “common sense” gun laws to help quell gun violence.
Problem is, most of the time the laws they propose only serve to demonize guns and disarm or limit the firearms access of otherwise law-abiding citizens.
But I think that I speak for most gun owners when I say that we are not against all gun laws. Just the useless ones.
The event last week at the Fort Lauderdale airport is a perfect case study for this conversation.
Esteban Santiago checked in four hours early for his flight at the airport in Anchorage, Alaska. Multiple published reports quoting numerous public officials say he carried no luggage other than a plastic handgun case. He had a one-way ticket to Florida.
Federal court records indicate after he arrived at the Fort Lauderdale airport, he retrieved his Walther 9mm handgun, took it into a restroom, loaded it and came out firing.
"Santiago fired approximately 10 to 15 rounds of ammunition from his firearm, aiming at his victims' heads. He was described as walking while shooting in a methodical manner," according to an FBI agent’s narrative in federal court records.
He exited the baggage area where the shooting occurred, then walked back in, still carrying the handgun, the agent wrote. Moments later, a Broward County officer approached Santiago, who dropped the gun and surrendered by lying on the floor.
Santiago told investigators that he planned the senseless act and flew to Florida to carry it out. But he didn’t tell them why. Frankly, that’s a detail that might never be unlocked from the inner reaches of Santiago’s obviously addled brain.
So, of course, the first question that comes to mind is, “Is there anything that could have been done to prevent this?”
Well, the answer is a resounding “Yes,” and it gets back to those “common sense” gun laws.
See, I have no problem with laws that keep guns out of the hands of crazy people.
I know sometimes there are gray areas and laws like that can be hard to enforce.
But in the case of Santiago? Not so much.
Santiago, a U.S. Army veteran, did a nine-month tour in Iraq.
When he got back to the U.S., he moved to Alaska and had several run-ins with local law enforcement.
As reported in USA Today, from January to October of last year he encountered Anchorage police at least five times.
He was arrested and charged with criminal mischief following a "physical disturbance" with his girlfriend. Then he was arrested again for violating an order to stay away from their apartment the following month.
There were three other calls during which Santiago was not arrested.
Santiago's erratic behavior escalated in November, when he walked into the FBI office in Anchorage complaining that "his mind was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency" and that he was being forced to fight for ISIS.
The FBI also knew Santiago was looking at extremist materials on the internet years before he was deployed overseas.
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume the FBI is at least as adept as I in searching the internet. So surely they saw the picture of Santiago sporting an ISIS-style scarf and striking a pose eerily similar to one of the Boston Marathon bombers.
FBI agents confiscated a gun Santiago had in his car and sent him to see the local police. The police sent him to get a mental health evaluation.
He was cleared.
So the FBI closed its file on Santiago and gave him back his gun. No published reports have confirmed this was the gun that was used in the shootings, but ... well, take your best guess.
OK, let’s think about this for a moment.
A guy with a history of domestic violence walks into an FBI office, basically admits to being an ISIS guy, and this isn’t enough to keep guns away from him?
His family knew something was wrong.
His aunt told CNN about it. She said her nephew talked about the death and destruction he witnessed in Iraq — the killing of children.
"His mind was not right," she told CNN. "He seemed normal at times, but other times he seemed lost. He changed."
Santiago’s brother said that his brother needed help, "And they did nothing. They had him hospitalized for four days, and then they let him go. How are you going to let someone leave a psychological center after four days when he is saying that he is hearing voices?"
Exactly.
And this is not some weird exception or bizarre circumstance.
Remember the Orlando night club shooting?
Apparently the FBI put the shooter, Omar Mateen, under surveillance for 10 months. They recorded his calls, tailed him, put him on a terrorist watch list and interviewed him a couple of times.
Case closed. No threat.
The Boston bomber who was shot dead by police was also on the FBI’s radar. After that, the Russian government put out a warning that he appeared to be “radicalizing.”
Here’s what FBI director James Comey said about the 2015 San Bernadino shooters: "We can see from our investigation that in late 2013" (Syed Rizwan Farook and his fiancée, Tashfeen Malik, were communicating via "direct private messages" about "their joint commitment to jihad and to martyrdom."
Why don’t we have a law that puts these people in a database that precludes their purchasing firearms? Are lawmakers afraid of getting sued? Are they afraid of being labeled racist?
Not sure.
But there’s a “common sense” gun law lurking in there somewhere, isn’t there?