The January 6 attack that killed five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport has led some in Congress to call for an end to allowing air travelers to check firearms in their baggage, but limiting responsible gun owners’ rights would do nothing to stop tragedies like the most recent attack in Florida.
“There’s no question we need to review not only the question of whether people should be able to travel with their firearms even if they’re in checked baggage, but I think we need to take a hard look at the security around baggage-claim areas, and not just leave it at that,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., the former chair of the Democratic National Committee whose district includes the Fort Lauderdale airport.
Florida is already one of only six states that ban legal gun owners from carrying firearms at airports, and the federal government currently bans the possession of guns beyond the Transportation Security Administration’s checkpoint.
The policies proposed by Wasserman-Schultz and others to ban gun owners from carrying their firearms in airport baggage-claim areas and in checked baggage won’t prevent mass shootings. In fact, statistics show they could make mass shootings more likely.
According to a Heritage Foundation analysis of Stanford University’s mass-shootings dataset, there were 54 mass shootings between 2002 and February 2016 in which the shooter targeted random victims. Of those 54 mass shootings, which are defined as involving three or more killed or injured victims, 37, about 69 percent, occurred in locations that had gun bans.
In a 2013 analysis by John Lott, the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, he found of all the public shootings in the United States between 1950 and 2012 in which three or more people were killed, all but two occurred in gun-free areas.
If gun bans are meant to stop mass killings like the Fort Lauderdale tragedy, they clearly aren’t working.
State and local data also conflict with many Democrats’ call to restrict gun rights in public areas like airports. In 2016, despite strict gun-control laws, there were 762 murders in Chicago, more than in any other city in the United States, and 4,331 shooting victims. Gun-control advocates say Chicago’s high gun-crime figures are due to the lax gun laws in surrounding states, but data show gun crime in those states is not high. Iowa and Wisconsin are among the states with the lowest gun crime.
Many of the states with the least-restrictive gun laws have the lowest crime rates. For instance, in New Hampshire, there is no permit or registration required to purchase rifles, shotguns or handguns. There is also no licensing of owners. New Hampshire gun owners are required to get a permit to carry handguns in public, but once a permit is obtained, owners can carry in most places, including in restaurants and at airports.
Despite the state’s lax gun laws, the FBI reports in 2015, there were in New Hampshire only 1.1 murders and non-negligent manslaughters per 100,000 people, making it the least-deadly state in the nation. Further, according to data provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, New Hampshire’s homicide rate is comparable or better to rates in many countries with stricter gun laws, including nearby Canada, France and the United Kingdom.
Banning people from having firearms in airports won’t have much of an effect on mass shootings, but it could make mass shootings that do occur even worse. The Heritage Foundation’s analysis of mass shootings found of the 17 shootings targeting random victims in gun-free zones, five, about 29 percent, were stopped or slowed by someone with a gun permit. Heritage researcher Patrick Tyrrell concludes based on the available data, “If you have a choice to be in a gun-free zone or a legal-to-carry setting, you are less likely to be the victim of a mass shooting where it is legal to carry guns.”
Airports will always be targets for mass shootings, regardless of gun laws, because mass murderers don’t care about gun-free zones; they care about killing as many people as possible. There are some ways to minimize risk, however.
One way airports could reduce their vulnerability would be to have bags containing checked weapons delivered to a separate, more secure area of the airport, making it difficult for murderers like the Fort Lauderdale shooter to target large crowds.
A second strategy would be to reduce significantly TSA wait times. Despite much progress in the last six months, security wait times at many large airports remain 20 minutes or longer, especially at peak times, which means at many airports, thousands of travelers stand in relatively small and confined spaces for long periods in areas that are vulnerable to attacks.
Preventing gun owners from having firearms in baggage-claim areas and banning guns in checked baggage won’t make Americans safer, but it will severely restrict and limit the rights of law-abiding citizens.