Debbie Wasserman Schultz may propose bill about transporting guns on airplanes

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U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz held a roundtable Friday to discuss security at the Fort Lauderdale airport where a mass shooting occurred in January.

Wasserman Schultz met with federal, state and local law enforcement and government officials to discuss ways to improve security, mass shooting response and training — the second such roundtable the Weston Democrat has held. Most of the meeting held at Wasserman Schultz’s Sunrise office was in private. The media was allowed to ask questions to some of the participants after it ended.

Wasserman Schultz is considering proposing legislation related to rules about passengers transporting firearms. But any proposals about firearm restrictions could be dead on arrival in a Republican-led Congress.

Under current federal rules, airline passengers can transport unloaded firearms as checked baggage in a locked hard-sided container. The Transportation Security Administration has the power to enact rules related to what passengers can transport on airplanes via checked or carry-on luggage but has not announced any changes since the Fort Lauderdale shooting. Wasserman Schultz said she is pressing TSA to review policies.

“There is no obstacle I am aware of in the law that prevents TSA from regulating the transportation of firearms,” she said. “I have continued to be in the process of taking a look and seeking input at the best way to address transportation of firearms and whether legislation is necessary. … I want to make sure that we don’t get caught up in the politics of the Second Amendment.”

On Jan. 6, Esteban Santiago of Alaska flew to Fort Lauderdale, picked up his gun at baggage and opened fired, killing five people and wounding six others. An Iraqi war veteran, Santiago has since been diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder but a federal judge ruled in March that he can stand trial. Santiago pleaded not guilty.

It could take a year for federal prosecutors and the Justice Department to decide whether to charge him with the death penalty in the mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The shooting exposed weaknesses in airport security — including that there is little security outside of screening checkpoints or car traffic areas, including baggage claim.

Broward County hired a consultant to write an in depth after action report that will include recommendations about security and evacuation procedures that could be used at the Fort Lauderdale airport and other airports.

“Unfortunately this happened here, but it could happen anywhere,” Broward Vice Mayor Beam Furr said.

That report is expected to be finished in July. Furr said in an interview that county commissioners won’t make decisions about whether to increase the security budget until they review the report. Commissioners set the budget in September.

The county pays the Broward Sheriff’s Office about $17 million a year to provide airport security. The money comes from fees paid by airlines and vendors and covers the cost for 116 full-time employees. In addition to the overall security budget, a key question for local officials will be how to deploy security throughout the airport including baggage claim.

BSO officials racked up nearly 3,500 hours in overtime as a result of the shooting. On Tuesday, the Broward County Commission approved an agreement with the state to receive $262,000 in federal money to defray the cost.

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