State Politics

Bloodbath shows why guns should be allowed in airports, lawmakers say

State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, is again proposing controversial legislation to expand gun owners’ rights in Florida — including allowing the open carrying of guns and lifting the ban on concealed weapons in airport terminals and other locations.
State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, is again proposing controversial legislation to expand gun owners’ rights in Florida — including allowing the open carrying of guns and lifting the ban on concealed weapons in airport terminals and other locations. gjefferies@bradenton.com

Two conservative Republican lawmakers who want to lift Florida’s ban on concealed weapons in airport terminals say Friday’s shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport strengthens the need for their proposal.

Weeks before Esteban Santiago opened fire on Friday in a baggage-claim area, killing five people and injuring six others, state Sen. Greg Steube and state Rep. Jake Raburn had filed bills in the Florida Legislature that would allow the 1.7 million people with concealed weapons permits in the state to carry their guns in airport passenger terminals.

Raburn, R-Lithia, said Saturday that the proposal wasn’t inspired by any particular incident but is a matter of allowing “lawfully abiding citizens” to protect themselves, even if it’s simply while picking up loved ones from the airport.

Raburn told the Herald/Times “it’s hard to say” if his bill, if in place now, would have made a difference on Friday. He said 44 states already allow guns in airport terminals.

“There’s always the potential — if it were allowed and there were someone in that area that had a concealed weapon — that it could have gone differently,” Raburn said. “I’m not going to say that it would have, because my understanding is we’re talking about a span of time that’s less than a minute. It may not have changed anything.”

“But had I been there waiting to pick up my family from the airport and had it happened near me, I would have been prepared to defend myself and my family,” he added.

1.7 million Number of people who have concealed weapons permits in Florida, as of Dec. 31.

Steube, R-Sarasota, is a passionate advocate for gun owners’ rights. He has repeatedly said that gun-free zones “don’t work” and that “law-abiding citizens” should be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights with fewer restrictions.

He told the Miami New Times that Friday’s shooting “further enforces the point: People should have the ability to defend themselves.” Steube did not return a voicemail or text message left by the Herald/Times on Saturday.

Steube filed a comprehensive gun bill (SB 140) for the upcoming legislative session that includes the provision to allow concealed guns in airport terminals. Raburn has proposed a standalone bill (HB 6001) that deals only with airport terminals.

Under the proposed law changes, though, guns would still be prohibited in “sterile” areas of airports — those areas beyond security checkpoints that are regulated by federal law.

Neither of the bills has been vetted yet by lawmakers. Legislative committee hearings start Tuesday for the 2017 session, which begins in March.

Steube’s bill had previously been scheduled for its first hearing on Tuesday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Steube chairs. However, the hearing was canceled last Wednesday because one senator would have been unable to attend.

Raburn’s House bill has not been assigned to committees yet for review. He filed the same measure in the 2016 session, but it was never taken up. His bill is a basic repeal measure that simply removes passenger terminals from a list of 15 places in Florida law where concealed weapons permit-holders cannot carry.

There’s always the potential — if it were allowed and there were someone in that area that had a concealed weapon — that it could have gone differently.

State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia

Steube’s bill does that, too, but goes much further. It also would let concealed-weapons permit-holders openly carry their guns, and it would strip the concealed-weapons ban also from public college and university campuses, elementary and secondary schools, government meetings and career centers.

Last session, Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is now the Senate majority leader, also proposed allowing guns in airport terminals. His bill was considered and passed by only one committee before it stalled.

Simpson had cautioned airport terminals “could become more of a target” for terrorists and criminals because it was among the areas where state law prohibited even concealed weapons permit-holders from carrying.

Raburn acknowledged Saturday that his bill “wouldn’t have allowed [Santiago] to do anything differently than exactly what he chose to do.”

“And it’s unfortunate,” he said. “There are bad people in this world and bad things are going to happen, and we can’t remove 100 percent of the risk from life.”

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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