The Sunshine Economy: After the Airport Attack

Jan 12, 2017


"We need to keep as many weapons out of the airport as possible."

Emilio González knows about weapons at airports. He's a military veteran. He's a concealed weapons permit holder. And he's the boss at Florida's busiest passenger airport -- Miami International Airport.


"That's not to say that there isn't good rationale for concealed carry in other areas," he said, "but in an airport environment the fact that you could carry a weapon anywhere around there an incident could happen. It could be maybe something very benign. Law enforcement won't know but we will know that there is a bunch of people carrying guns and I think that would just exacerbate the situation."



Miami-Dade police officer William Cook and police dog Ringo guard the terminal at Miami International Airport, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in Miami. MIA is the busiest passenger airport in Florida.
Credit AP Photo/Alan Diaz

  Sarasota Sen. Greg Steube (R) wants to allow Floridians with concealed carry permits to bring their guns into unsecured areas of airports. His legislation includes baggage claim areas, such as the one which was the site of the mass shooting Friday at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.


He told Suncoast News Network after the shooting had his bill been law "any licensed concealed permit holder who was in that baggage claim area would have been permitted to carry (a gun) and defend themselves if they were in that circumstance."




The shooting has thrown open the debate once again over security and guns. The flight schedule may be back to normal at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, but how we think about safety and security inside airports has changed.


Airports are places of transit and commerce. They help move people and cargo, and therefore money. A new passenger route or cargo carrier can mean new investment and jobs. That’s why millions of dollars of money is spent on building and rebuilding airports, from renovating aging terminals to adding a new runway.


Airports are vital to a dynamic economy, allowing locals to export their knowledge and for a region to import new ideas. Millions of tourists first experience here is stepping off a plane and into one of our airports. They are waystations on the path to someplace else.

Since last Friday, the airport -- a South Florida airport -- has changed. The carnage unleashed by a gunman Friday afternoon near the baggage claim inside Terminal 2 at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is incomprehensible, except for the fact that it happened. It happened here.

In the middle of a sunny Friday as hundreds of travelers were moving toward what was supposed to come next for them, a 26 year old Army combat veteran is accused of opening fire. In moments, five people were shot and would died. Thousands of travelers would be caught up in the chaos as Esteban Santiago surrendered to police.

While investigators continue piecing together the moments, days and months of Santiago’s life leading up to the mass shooting, it has led to an understandable discussion about airport security and a return to the debate over gun ownership.



This week The Sunshine Economy spoke with the head of the busiest airport in Florida -- and a magnet for economic activity -- about security. We also spoke about airport safety and firearm access with the two U.S. Representatives whose districts include the big airports in South Florida: Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.


We also heard about a unique court program in Hillsborough County that aims to help veterans who find themselves in trouble with the law. U.S. Army Col. (ret.) DJ Reyes is the coordinator of the Veterans Treatment Court in the Tampa area. This airport attack is another stark reminder of the mental health challenges some veterans confront.


Esteban Santiago faces federal charges for the Fort Lauderdale airport mass shooting which may make him eligible for the death penalty.
Credit Broward Sheriff's Office

  Esteban Santiago stands accused of killing five Americans. Just a few years ago his job was to protect America. He served in the war in Iraq for 10 months. He returned joining the Alaskan National Guard where he was given a general discharge four months ago.


While in Alaska, he worked as a security guard according to his brother. He also began to get in trouble with the law. He was charged with assault and criminal mischief after a fight with his girlfriend. He pleaded no contest and was scheduled to be back in court in March.


He spoke with the FBI complaining of voices telling him to fight for ISIS and family members report his behavior became more erratic in the months before the airport attack.



  Editor's note: A previous version of this story erroneously reported Santiago was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. He served in the Inactive Ready Reserve.