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After airport shooting, plans remain underway to allow firearms in Florida terminals

Before Esteban Santiago reportedly stepped out of a bathroom near a baggage claim carousel Friday and sprayed a crowded airport terminal with bullets, Florida lawmakers had already come up with their solution to the problem — more guns in airport terminals.

Current Florida law prevents people with concealed carry permits from bringing their firearms into airport terminals, along with schools, colleges, courtrooms, bars, meetings of legislators, and several other locales. But under a bill filed by state Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Valrico, airport terminals outside of the secure area guarded by metal detectors would be clear for carrying.

"I do personally feel like had this bill been in place already," Raburn said, "there could have been the potential for people to protect themselves in that situation."

Five people died and six more were wounded Friday when Santiago allegedly took a gun he had checked on a flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, loaded it in a bathroom, and came out shooting.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, believes it's time to look at whether federal law allowing guns in checked baggage needs to be revisited.

"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," she said. "There are many unsecure areas in facilities that the public travels — train stations, port terminals, and baggage claim areas, so certainly those procedures need to be reviewed and I'm going to be addressing that when I go back to Washington."

But such changes might not have much effect. Even a ban on firearms aboard planes, currently limited to checked baggage, would not prevent someone from entering the airport terminal with a gun from the outside.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, whose agency is responsible for security in Fort Lauderdale's terminals, recognizes the potential futility of such plans, but he's strongly against ideas such as Raburn's, to allow more guns in airport terminals.

"I'm opposed to it, just as I am opposed to open carry in schools," he said. "It makes us less safe, as it would hinder law enforcement by legally allowing potential active shooters to openly carry their deadly weapons right into airports to carry out their heinous attacks."

The Transportation Security Administration has no official position on the carrying of firearms in the unsecured area of the airport. A TSA spokesperson said it was "not within our purview."

Raburn's bill has no companion in the Senate, but state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, has filed a bill that would not only allow concealed carry permit holders to carry in airport terminals, but also strike down bans at government meetings, schools and colleges. It would also allow gun owners to carry their firearms openly.

Raburn said that he is still looking for a senator to file a simple repeal of the ban on carrying in airport terminals, as well as considering whether to roll his bill into a larger one that would mirror Steube's language.

"While I have supported the other bills that are rolled into Sen. Steube's package, this was the one that was most important to me," Raburn said. "I carry my weapon wherever I go, but I travel a lot and it's something I've thought about a lot as I have to comply with the law."

For law enforcement, the ugly truth is that these tragedies are more about reaction than prevention.

"When you have a person that could be suffering from a severe mental illness, or you have what we call a lone wolf assassin that's ready to conduct some cowardly, heinous act," Israel said, "there's not much law enforcement or anybody else can do about it."

dsweeney@sunsentinel.com, 954-356-4605 or Twitter @Daniel_Sweeney

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