October 17, 2019

New details about airport gunman raise DISTURBING questions

Greetings from my Batcave in Washington DC. It’s been a very productive week here with the NRA Winter board meeting and visits on Capitol Hill. However, the week ended with terrible tragedy in Florida as five people were killed and eight others wounded when a gunman opened fire at Ft Lauderdale airport.

I had planned to share with you thoughts and assessment of the most recent final throes of fundamental transformation to our military — to my Army — so I’ll do that first.

As reported in The Atlantic, “The Army has issued a new regulation: Effective immediately, brigade-level commanders will be able to grant accommodations to servicemen and women who wear beards, turbans, or hijabs for religious reasons—the three most common requests for waivers to current guidelines on grooming and dress, according to a letter from the Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning.

The new guidelines also revise hairstyle standards for female soldiers: They can now wear dreadlocks in addition to cornrows and twists, which were allowed in a revision made in 2014.* Like other hairstyles, locks must be relatively small, uniform, neat, and tied off inconspicuously, and women don’t have to request an accommodation to wear them.

This might seem like an odd choice for a policy directive in the final days of the Obama administration. It came about largely in response to litigation and advocacy from Sikh servicemen who wear beards and turbans for religious reasons, and who wanted to be able to keep them while actively serving. While this ruling will make a big difference for those soldiers, there are very few of them.”

Now, I appreciate anyone who wants to serve in our U.S. military, but there are standards. This is a volunteer force, not a mandated draft of service force. Therefore, why is this decision being made? And where is Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation who once asserted that Christians “proselytizing” —basically publicly professing their faith — are guilty of sedition and deserve a court-martial. I guess religious freedom is cool, as long as you’re not a Christian…oh yeah, there’s also a legal action pending of atheists wanting a “Chaplain.” The good thing is this can be easily reversed, and after January 20th it should be.

Standards in our military are there for a reason, as this is not civilian happy land, and not about participation trophies, but earning a title, American Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine. I find it rather ironic that a female Marine can be punished for refusing to take down a verse from the Old Testament, Isaiah 54:17, yet “for religious reasons” folks can be allowed to wear turbans, hijabs, and grow beards. Yes, fascinating.

But, I will not further analyze that edict from the fella who never served in the military, SecArmy Eric Fanning.

Instead, I must address the tragedy that hit really close to home for me at Ft. Lauderdale airport. As a Member of the 112th US Congress, the airport and Port Everglades were part of the US Congressional District 22 which I was honored to serve and represent. I know this is a very busy time for the airport and Port Everglades, as it’s cruise season. I lived Broward County for eleven years after my retirement from the military. We still maintain a home there and my wife and youngest daughter Austen often travel back and forth from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas. Our family sends deepest condolences to those whose loved ones were lost or wounded, and to all those traumatized.

Much has been written here about the event itself, but more details are emerging about the gunman which raise some very disturbing questions.

As reported by CBS Miami, “The suspected gunman in a deadly attack at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport “lost his mind” after coming back home from a one-year tour in Iraq, family members told the media. 

Investigators are now looking into what may have set off 26-year-old Esteban Santiago-Ruiz into a shooting rampage that left 5 dead and 8 others wounded.

“Only thing I could tell you was when he came out of Iraq, he wasn’t feeling too good,” his uncle, Hernan Rivera, told the Bergen Record newspaper, as reported by The Associated Press. 

Bryan Santiago, the suspect’s brother, said Esteban’s girlfriend had recently called the family to alert them to his treatment, but didn’t provide many details. On Friday, Esteban Santiago-Ruiz took a flight from Alaska to Florida with a lay over stop in Minnesota.

Somewhere along the way, he got into an argument with someone, officials said. According to Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca, Santiago-Ruiz arrived in Ft. Lauderdale with a gun that he checked in. 

“He claimed his bag and took the gun from baggage and went into the bathroom to load it. Came out shooting people in baggage claim,” LaMarca said. 

Passengers are legally allowed to travel with guns and ammunition as long as the firearms are unloaded, secured in a lock box and not brought on board the plane as a carry-on. They must be declared to the airline at check-in. 

In November 2016, he walked into an FBI office in Anchorage claiming that he was being forced to fight for ISIS and was sent to a psychiatric hospital, officials revealed. In 2011 or 2012, he was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations for child porn. Three weapons and a computer were seized, but there was not enough evidence to prosecute, according to law enforcement sources. Santiago also has a record for minor traffic violations and was evicted in 2015 for not paying rent.  

According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon said he went AWOL several times as a specialist during a stint with the Alaska National Guard and was demoted to private first class. He was given a general discharge, which is lower than an honorable discharge.”

Before the intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt anti-gun lobby grabs this as a rallying cry for gun control, let’s take the time to analyze this situation and find solutions.

First of all, I recall seeing a file picture on Santiago listing him as a sex offender. The Homeland Security investigation back in 2011 or 2012 should have resulted in some type of temporary red flag on Santiago. We don’t know the circumstances of the allegations of child porn, but there should have been some temporary, probationary flag that popped up.

This past November, when Santiago ventured into the FBI office in Anchorage there should have been red flags raised. Santiago should have had his file checked to see if he was a gun owner, and if so, those firearms should have been confiscated, especially since he was sent to a psychiatric hospital.

I did some personal research and study. Santiago should have been placed under the Baker Act by local law enforcement in Anchorage and placed on some type of list of concern by the FBI.

So here is my question and my point: if Santiago had weapons prior to his November 2016 visit to the FBI office, he should have been screened for gun ownership. Those guns owned and registered to him should have been confiscated. There should have been no way possible that Santiago would have been able to purchase guns after being referred to psychiatric hospitalization, he should have been flagged. If there was a case of someone purchasing firearms for Santiago and providing them to him, a search of the gun serial numbers would reveal that…and punishment should be forthcoming to that “straw buyer.”

The bottom line is, there were “gun control” measures in place. Santiago should not have been able to take a flight where he checked in a firearm, post November 2016 and his hospitalization. There should have been a red flag as a result of his being on some type of restricted fly list…why didn’t happen?

Furthermore, if there’s any corrective action from this tragic event, it has to be this. Anyone who checks in a firearm and ammunition, in their baggage while traveling must not be able to retrieve those bags themselves. Those bags must be separated and provided to airport law enforcement officers for the individual to present themselves for receipt. If Santiago would have had to receive his tagged bags with a “firearm” tag, he would have been under surveillance by law enforcement officers. This has to be a best practice procedure implemented immediately. Heck, if SecArmy Eric Fanning can alter uniform and grooming standards in our Army immediately, then why can’t we make this correction, right now?

So, to billionaire Michael Bloomberg, and the flying monkeys of the anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment lobby, let’s treat this as a separate incident, and do our due diligence to ascertain where the breakdown occurred. We should not take this tragedy as another means to demonize all law abiding, legal gun owners. Just assess, analyze, and present solutions to eliminate the possibilities of another Esteban Santiago incident, and protect our citizens.