The shooting on Friday at the Ft. Lauderdale airport is a reminder of why we need better gun laws and more research about people who commit violence using guns. Apparently, this gunman passed though security, but he was able to literally “pack heat” in his suitcase. He retrieved his gun from his baggage and loaded it in the bathroom near baggage claim.

As of this writing, we do not know if he was sold his gun legally or if he managed to get around the gun laws that ensure mentally unstable people can’t purchase guns. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence says: “Approximately 40% of gun sales are made without any background check – giving convicted felons, the dangerously mentally ill and others unchecked access to firearms. It’s long past time to require a background check on every gun sale in America. … A loophole in the law allows individuals not ‘engaged in the business’ of selling firearms to sell guns without a license – and without processing any paperwork. That means that two out of every five guns sold in the United States change hands without a background check.

“Though sometimes referred to as the ‘Gun Show Loophole,’ the ‘private sales’ described above include firearms sold at gun shows, through classified newspaper ads, the Internet, and between individuals virtually anywhere.”

The Center for Disease Control has not funded gun research. Part of the reason is Congress failing to appropriate money. But another part is the director of the CDC, not wanting to alienate Congress, has chosen not to spend money on research even though President Obama signed an order allowing it.

Fortunately, there are places such as Johns Hopkins University that are doing research on gun violence. One of its findings is that with teens, violence can spread like a disease. In the research, the university found “though kids were 140 percent more likely to report pulling on a gun or knife on someone if their friend had done so, only 3 percent of kids at all said they did something like that in the past year (when asked about it in the second wave of interviews). Twenty percent said they had gotten in a serious fight and 6 percent said that they had hurt someone badly, with the likelihood of doing so jumping up by 48 percent and 183 percent respectively if their immediate friends had done it too.”

Professor Robert Bond and Ohio State author Brad Bushman explained: “If we can stop violence in one person, that spreads to their social network. We’re actually preventing violence not only in that person, but potentially for all the people they come in contact with.”

One major way to stop gun violence is through better background checks.

The Pew Research Center reports: “In July, 85% of the public – including large majorities of both Republicans (79%) and Democrats (88%) – favored making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks. There also was substantial bipartisan support for laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns.”

Outgoing President Obama, in his article in the Harvard Law Review, said that action to be taken should include “common sense steps to reduce gun violence that are consistent with the Second Amendment.”

He added: “But there’s a great deal of work left to be done. Congress should pass the kinds of common sense reforms supported by most of the American people – from investing in access to mental health care, to expanding background checks, to making it possible to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists. The actions we take won’t prevent every act of violence – but if even one life is spared, they will have been well worth it.”

When I worked in mental health, we found that our most paranoid patients, who were men, often got work as security guards even if they were on medication. This was before the background checks we see today. However, according to an interview with the alleged shooter’s aunt, he was working as a security guard.

Not only is it time to do better background checks for people purchasing guns but also for security guards. You can’t walk into an FBI office and say the government is making you watch ISIS videos and be playing with a full deck. When he went through the security check in the Alaska airport, his name should have raised a red flag. Then they should have looked at his luggage. We need better follow-up and more attention to detail if we want to stop what happened at the Ft. Lauderdale airport.

Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].

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