US authorities are mulling over tightening rules on gun carriage after an apparently crazed gunman exploited a fatal flaw in airline gun security rules to shoot and kill people at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida.
The gunman, a 26-year-old male who according to reports had served in Iraq and was suffering mental issues and hearing voices, went on a murderous rampage with a Walther 9mm semi-automatic pistol he had stored, quite legally, in his checked luggage.
He simply placed his handgun in his suitcase (unloaded, as is permitted), flew to his destination, retrieved his gun from his bag on the carousel, loaded it in a bathroom in the baggage-claim area and emerged shooting.
He killed five people and wounded eight others.
US Transportation Security Administration rules are designed to stop people getting their hands on loaded guns in flight. This follows several appalling incidents such as the crash of Pacific Southwest Airlines flight 1771 on 7 December 1987, when a recently sacked and disgruntled USAir employee armed with a .44 Magnum pistol went berserk and shot the flight crew, causing the plane to crash and killing the 43 passengers and crew. At the time, airline employees were allowed to bypass airport security checkpoints. Not any more.
Current rules in the US ban weapons on aircraft in carry-on bags, but they let passengers take guns in their checked baggage provided they are unloaded, placed in an approved hard-sided, locked container that only the owner can unlock. Bullets are also legal, if carried separately in checked baggage.
The problem is that while gun owners can’t get to their weapons in flight, they can access them quickly after landing.
Concerns about guns in bags were raised 42 years ago, when a three-member Japanese Red Army terrorist cell retrieved guns and grenades from their bags after landing in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, and killed 26 people in the airport.
That was in 1972, but any suggestion of a restriction on gun carriage in the US meets resistance from America’s powerful hunting and shooting lobby.
Written by Peter Needham