As lawmakers seek out a legislative lesson to the mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, it’s instructive to put this shooting in its proper historical context.
The shooter, Esteban Santiago, legally purchased the 9 mm handgun he used to kill five people and wound six others in the Terminal 2 baggage claim area early Friday afternoon.
That doesn’t make him an anomaly among America’s growing list of mass shooters. It makes him part of the overwhelming majority.
About four of every five mass shooters in America bought their guns legally, according to research done by The Washington Post, Mother Jones magazine, Everytownresearch.org and other news organizations.
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You might think that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which studies traffic fatalities and other common ways that Americans die, might have done some research on the topic of gun violence and its perpetrators. But Congress in 1997 passed a law that forbids it from funding CDC research that might “advocate or promote gun control.”
So instead, you can peruse the master index of mass shootings compiled by Mother Jones, a detailed listing of every shooting in a public place in America since 1982 that claimed at least four lives. To find it online, Google “Mother Jones mass shootings full data.”
You’ll see how Esteban Santiago fits right in. That’s he’s just another legal gun owner who lost his mind before he lost his legal access to firepower. It’s not a new story line.
He’s not much different from Jason Brian Dalton, the 45-year-old Uber driver from Kalamazoo, Mich., who imagined that the Uber symbol on his mobile phone had become the devil and had taken over his body. Dalton, who had legally bought 11 long guns and four handguns, went on an indiscriminate shooting spree in February, firing 30 rounds that killed six people and wounded two others.
Santiago, like Omar Mateen, the shooter who killed 49 and wounded 53 in an Orlando nightclub this summer, worked as a security guard. And Santiago had a history of military service, like Gavin Long, a former Marine who served in Iraq and was awarded a Good Conduct Medal, before shooting six Baton Rouge police officers, killing three of them, also last summer.
Santiago told the FBI two months ago that his mind was being controlled by the CIA. Three years ago, Pedro Alberto Vargas, 49, a concealed weapons permit holder in Hialeah, Fla., told a 911 dispatcher that his mind was being controlled by witchcraft. Then he set $10,000 in cash and his apartment on fire, and shot and killed seven people with his Glock 9 mm semi-automatic handgun.
Another mass murderer in Florida, Silvio Leyva, a legal immigrant from Cuba, bought a 9 mm handgun from a gun dealer at a Tampa-area flea market in 1999, and used it later that year to go on a shooting spree that began at the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel, where Leyva worked as a housekeeper.
Friends and family said that Leyva, who killed five people, had suffered from depression and had started wearing only white clothing as his obsession with the mystical practices of Santeria developed.
When will the next mass shooting in America occur? Well, there hasn’t been a period of more than three months without one since 2009, according to the data.
So what’s the fix?
There’s a bill in the Florida Legislature that attempts to address mass shootings like the one that happened Friday by allowing Florida’s 1.7 million concealed weapons permit holders to bring their guns into airports.
That assumes all legal gun owners are sane gun owners.
There’s an ever-growing set of data that proves otherwise.
Frank Cerabino is a columnist for the Palm Beach Post. firstname.lastname@example.org