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Commentary: Another chance for Congress to get something done


A lone traveler said to have mental issues pulls out a gun in a busy South Florida airport terminal and proceeds to shoot anyone in his path — killing five and injuring another six — before he runs out of bullets.

This is all so familiar, in a bad way.

Not only because on Friday we suffered yet another inexplicable mass shooting on U.S. soil. But we can already see that most lawmakers are either ready to put this one in the rearview mirror, or frustrated that nothing of consequence will be done to prevent the next tragedy.

It shouldn’t be this way. Because lawmakers certainly have had enough impetus. From Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 schoolchildren were massacred by a mentally ill young man, to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where U.S. military veteran Esteban Santiago-Ruiz indiscriminately and dispassionately fired his 9mm semi-automatic handgun at the heads of unwary travelers as he walked by.

We urge Congress to do something this time. And do it now. Don’t wait for the raw emotion and pain of this latest incident to wear off. Don’t be deterred by those who would write off any chance at meaningful action as “just politics.” Don’t let fear of hard choices get in the way of protecting the American people.

“This isn’t about Amendment 2,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told Miami TV station WPLG-TV. “We need to say enough is enough. We have a society to protect.”

He’s right. Santiago, 26, walked into an Alaska FBI office in November saying he was hearing voices from the CIA that were telling him to watch Islamic State videos online. The FBI took his firearm, and local authorities took him away for a mental health evaluation. The FBI never added Santiago to the federal “no-fly list.” And a month later the agency gave him the firearm back — the same one he used on Friday.

It was the same firearm that Santiago, who was bounced out of the Alaska Army National Guard in August for “performance issues,” legally packed in a checked bag and declared when he bought his one-way ticket. The same firearm he was able to retrieve from that checked bag in the airport baggage claim area and calmly kill a 62-year-old grandfather from Virginia Beach, Va., a Marietta, Ga. great-grandmother in her 80s, and three others.

We agree with state Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz that “this clearly is a gaping hole in the security process that we need to close.” Further, the seven-term Democrat is correct that she and her colleagues have their pick of issues to address as a result of the shooting: the safety of the airport baggage claim area; ability for passengers to travel with loaded firearms; and whether to curtail the right of individuals with mental health problems to possess firearms.

Add to that better understanding and commitment to helping the tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are suffering in silence from post-traumatic stress disorder.

All the more troubling then that Santiago, who appeared to be seeking help when he walked into that Anchorage FBI office “making disjointed comments about mind control,” was characterized by FBI officials as just another “walk-in complaint” their offices around the country receive daily.

That’s not good enough. There needs to be a better protocol for working with veterans — especially those trained to use firearms with deadly force — when they “walk in” to a government office exhibiting what is essentially a cry for help.

Bryan Santiago essentially said as much when it came to his brother: “We’re not talking about someone who emerged from anonymity to do something like this… The federal government already knew about this for months, they had been evaluating him for a while, but they didn’t do anything.”

For our safety and security, now is the time for Congress to do something — anything.



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