Fort Lauderdale shooting raises questions about guns laws, mental illness
In wake of the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, many people are questioning why someone who showed signs of psychiatric issues was allowed to have a gun.
In November, 26-year-old Esteban Santiago Ruiz walked into the Anchorage FBI office to report that the CIA was controlling his mind. The FBI contacted the Anchorage Police Department, and in a press conference on Saturday, APD Chief Chris Tolley described the event as a “mental health crisis.”
“APD transferred him to a mental health facility where he was admitted,” Tolley said. “During this incident, Santiago’s weapon was logged into APD evidence for safekeeping.”
Despite his behavior, Santiago was reunited with his gun a month later.
He’s now accused of shooting 11 people at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Five people were killed.
Alaska’s U.S. Attorney says there is nothing in existing law that would have prevented Santiago from getting his gun back.
“As far as I know, this is not somebody who would have been prohibited,” U.S. Attorney for Alaska Karen Loeffler said. “Based on the information they had, I think that law enforcement acted within the laws that they have.”
It’s not easy to lose your gun rights due to mental illness. At the press conference, Loeffler described it as a “difficult standard.”
Federal standards set decades ago say anyone who “[h]as been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution” is prohibited from purchasing a firearm. The definition of a “mental defective” includes anyone whom “a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority” has determined to be “a danger to himself or others” because of “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.”
Mark Regan, legal director at the Disability Law Center of Alaska, said the state’s mental health system is under pressure.
“I think what we need to keep coming back to is that you are in the middle of this crisis, you’re coming out of the crisis, you’re situation is more stable and then you need help,” Regan said. “We all need to look at the moments after Mr. Santiago was released to see what was available to him, what he tried to do, what his family tried to do.”
Many of the details leading up to the Fort Lauderdale mass shooting are still unknown, but Regan said one thing is for certain: it’s tough to meet the requirements to take someone’s gun away.
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