On 11th September 2001, 19 hijackers changed the world and the way we view aviation security…but not, seemingly, the way threat is assessed. 15 of them were from Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Egypt and Lebanon. In the other major attacks against American aviation interests, Richard Reid – the shoebomber – was British, and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab – the underpants bomber – was Nigerian. According to New America, “Of the twelve lethal jihadist terrorists in the United States since 9/11: three are African-Americans, three are from families that hailed originally from Pakistan, one is from a family that came from the Palestinian Territories, two came from Russia as children, one emigrated from Egypt and conducted his attack a decade after coming to the United States, and one each had families that originally came from Kuwait and Afghanistan”. And yet Donald Trump signs an Executive Order implying that the nationals of Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen are our primary concern.
But it is another attack on the soil of a US airport that I wish to focus on. That of 6th January this year when Santiago-Ruiz – a US citizen, born in New Jersey and Iraq War combat veteran – flew into Fort Lauderdale, claimed his suitcase at the baggage carousel, entered the toilets, loaded a Walther PPS 9mm semi-automatic, and then walked back into the arrivals area only to start shooting, randomly killing five people and injuring in excess of 40 others (eight of whom as a result of bullet wounds, the rest from the ensuing chaos). This was, however, not a failure of the aviation security system.
The fact that Santiago-Ruiz had left his temporary residence at the Qupqugiaq Inn in Anchorage, made his way to the airport and boarded a Delta flight to Minneapolis, with onward connection to Fort Lauderdale, with a gun in his bag is almost irrelevant. He could just as easily have been a resident of Florida, made his way to the airport and carried out the same atrocity without even boarding an aircraft.
There are a multitude of reasons why individuals should, with the correct paperwork in place, be able to check guns onto a flight within their hold baggage: to participate in sports events, to hunt, as members of law enforcement, for use as theatrical props and as part of historical collections to name a few. That is a globally accepted practice. In order to do so, bearers of such weaponry need to bring them to the airport at the point of departure and collect them on arrival. We could insist that firearms are always shipped and never brought to the airport terminal, but, as with so many other security protocols, it’s the good people who suffer the resulting inconvenience and the target simply moves to the shipper’s facilities.
Questionable, however, was Santiago-Ruiz’s ability to carry a firearm anywhere, let alone at an airport. After all, yes, the innocent victims of this atrocity happened to be in Terminal 2 at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, but, equally, those who died could have been in a shopping mall, theatre district, visiting a sports event or at a tourist attraction. This January’s attack happened in the public area of the airport – and there will always be a line that delineates the start and end of a security-restricted zone.