Six days into the New Year and the United States is already a victim of a mass shooting in a frequented landmark. A young man by the name of Esteban Santiago flew in from Anchorage Alaska to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and opened fired on passengers waiting in the baggage claim area. The consequence of this mans actions led to the deaths of five passengers and seriously wounding six. This tragedy of 2017 illustrated what the country has failed to address in two main areas. The first area that has been an issue in the U.S. deals with mental health and the second issue deals with the regulating of firearm ownership.
In addressing the former issue, the United States has a mental health system that is broken compared to other “developed” nations. In America one in four Americans have some type of mental illness this means that over forty million Americans need to be treated. Even-though the Affordable Care Act made it possible to cover more uninsured Americans; the cost for inpatient treatment is an issue as reported by 66% of respondents to a survey of 303 patients who thought about seeking help but then refused to.
Those who refused to seek help also admitted that they believed that they could handle the problem on their own. This can be what happened with Mr. Santiago. During his time in the National Guard in Puerto Rico, he was deployed to Iraq in 2010 with an engineering unit. At the time of his deployment it was reported that he witnessed the death of two of his fellow soldiers from an IED (improvised explosive device). At this point in his military career he observed a tragic event that is not easily forgotten. After coming home from his deployment things began to unravel.
Esteban moved to Alaska and became a part of the National Guard unit out there in the cold and snow covered state. However, he would be discharge based on “unsatisfactory performance.” Spokeswoman Lt. Col Candis Olmstead did not elaborate on the discharge but the Pentagon did cite that he did go AWOL a couple of times and that was what led to his discharge. Then in January 2016 police respond to a domestic violence call to his girl friends house Miss. Peterson. It was alleged that Mr. Santiago broke down the bathroom door and once gaining entry to the room where his girl friend was hiding in, he smacked her and attempted to strangle her.
The above event did result in charges being brought up for Domestic Violence, however he would take a plea that is similar to a probation program. He had agreed to seek anger management courses and if he completed treatment the charges would be dismissed. Here is another sign that something was wrong with the Iraq Veteran and nothing resulted in attempting to evaluate and treat. Furthermore, at the same time these events were taking place, Santiago was in possession of a 9MM Walther handgun. This is where the second issue in the United States comes to the fray. The issue of gun control arises after each mass shooting and in some cases, certain gun laws would not have prevented some of the mass shootings this country has been a victim to.
In the state of Alaska there is no law that states that a person who is charged with domestic violence and owns a firearm would have to turn it in to law enforcement. However, there is The 1968 Gun Control Act and amended in 1996 with the Lautenberg Act it aimed to do two things:
“First, it will assist in preventing those individuals who have demonstrated a propensity for domestic violence from obtaining a firearm. Second, it will assist law enforcement by providing a tool for the removal of firearms from certain explosive domestic situations thus decreasing the possibility of deadly violence. Finally, it will serve as a federal prosecution tool in certain situations where alternatives have failed.”
However, due to the plea he took the case was eventually dismissed. In November Santiago went to the FBI field office in Alaska and informed Agent Martin Ritzmon that he was hearing voices telling him to watch videos of ISIS and that the government was in control of his mind.
He is sent to a state mental facility where he stayed for only a few days. His weapon was confiscated but was then returned to him because a judge adjudicated his mental health status. In other words the judge decided whether or not Santiago was mentally stable to be in possession of his firearm. Unfortunately he was granted the ability to have his firearm in his possession. The irony here is that with the domestic assault charge that was dismissed and his statements to the FBI field office he was allowed to maintain his firearm. However, the Supreme Court ruled recently that Medical Marijuana cardholders would not be allowed to own any type of firearm.
Before Santiago left Anchorage he did not check in any bags only possessing a carry on bag. This bag contained his 9mmWalther and somehow got it through the security checkpoints we all despise going through because of the invasive body scan machine to the pat downs. However, he was still able to carry the weapon onto the plane. By Transportation Security Administration guidelines, Santiago had to check in his weapon in a closed case as a check in bag. As we saw on the sixth of January 2017 he was successful in avoiding all possible security regulations.
It is very difficult to assess why Santiago has committed the act that he has committed. So far he has not given those who have interrogated him any inside as to why he decided to shot an airport full of passengers who believed that day was any normal day. Santiago will now face the death penalty if convicted. Esteban lived by a VFW a source he could have used in terms of finding a mental health professional in the VA. After the domestic violence call in January 2016 and one other incident he was able to maintain his weapon in his possession. If Alaska possessed the law not allowing a person charged with domestic violence to be able to obtain a firearms card it may have prevented Esteban from committing the shooting Fort Lauderdale.
Furthermore the decision whether a person should be involuntarily committed to a state run mental facility should be left to the doctors and not to a criminal judge who may not specialize in the mental health field. This also could have changed the events from transpiring. However, as the events have already taken place we must observe and address the issues when it comes to the mental health care system. Currently the amount of health workers to patients presents a huge gap in the amount of professionals to patients. In addition with the current debate on the Affordable Care Act both houses of Congress and the newly elected President Trump cannot negate the need to continue to address the mental health issue and learning what went wrong in this first tragedy of the New Year in the United States.
Airport shooter’s life in Alaska was falling apart, though few seemed to notice, Charles Rabincrabin, Miamiherald, www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/article126025249.html
Seven facts about America’s mental health-care system, The Washington Post, WP Company, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2012/12/17/seven-facts-about-americas-mental-health-care-system/?utm_term=.13165429c012
Transporting Firearms and Ammunition, Transportation Security Administration,
As his life unraveled, Esteban Santiago slipped through all the cracks, Alaska Dispatch News, www.adn.com/alaska-news/crime-courts/2017/01/11/as-his-life-unraveled-esteban-santiago-slipped-through-all-the-cracks/
- Restrictions on the Possession of Firearms by Individuals Convicted of a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence, 1117. Restrictions on the Possession of Firearms by Individuals Convicted of a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence | USAM | Department of Justice, www.justice.gov/usam/criminal-resource-manual-1117-restrictions-possession-firearms-individuals-convicted
Family: Florida airport shooting suspect ‘lost his mind’ after tour in Iraq, WNYW,