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Shooting at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, airport: what we know

The shooter opened fire at the airport shortly before 1 pm.

At least eight people were injured and five were killed in a shooting on Friday at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, according to law enforcement officials.

The story is quickly developing, so some details may be wrong and may change. But here’s a rundown of what we know and don’t know, based on the best information available so far.

What we know:

  • Shortly before 1 pm Eastern Time on Friday, there were reports of a shooting at terminal 2 baggage claim at the Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport. The attack lasted for less than 15 minutes.
  • At least eight people were injured and five were killed during the shooting, according to the Broward Sheriff's Office. At least 37 more were injured afterward, reportedly in the chaos that followed the shooting.
  • One suspect is in custody, the Broward Sheriff’s Office confirmed. Police said that the suspect acted alone.
A map of the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting. Javier Zarracina/Vox
  • Authorities identified the suspect as Esteban Santiago, a 26-year-old National Guard veteran who was born in New Jersey and later lived in Puerto Rico and, most recently, Anchorage, Alaska.
  • Santiago was deployed in Iraq in 2010 and 2011, the Associated Press reported. But he was demoted — from specialist to private first class — due to erratic behavior, and he was given a general discharge, which is lower than an honorable discharge, in 2016 due to unsatisfactory performance.
  • Santiago had received psychological treatment while living in Alaska, his brother told the AP. And Santiago told the FBI in November that the government was controlling his mind and forced him to watch ISIS videos, a law enforcement official also told the AP.
  • Santiago was also charged in a domestic violence case in January 2016 when he tried to bash in a bathroom door at his girlfriend’s home, Alaska Dispatch News reported.
  • Santiago allegedly flew into the airport from Anchorage to Minneapolis to Fort Lauderdale with a gun in his checked bag. He then picked up his luggage at baggage claim, loaded the gun in a bathroom, and opened fire, a Broward County commissioner told ABC News.
  • It is “too early to say” whether the attack was terror-related, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a press conference on Friday.
  • Operations at Fort Lauderdale airport are largely shut down, ABC News reported. Other airports around the US have also beefed up their security in response to the shooting.
  • There have been no other shootings at the Fort Lauderdale airport, the sheriff said. But later on in the day, officials detonated a suspicious bag.

What we don’t know:

  • The final death and casualty toll.
  • What the shooter’s potential motives were.
  • Who the victims were.

The shooting is a devastating tragedy, but also the kind of event that Americans have become increasingly familiar with over the past several years. And as the country deals with a level of gun violence unmatched by other developed nations, the question has often turned to what restrictions on firearms could help reduce how many shootings happen year after year.

America’s levels of gun violence are unique in the developed world

No other developed country in the world has anywhere near the same rate of gun violence as America. The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times Sweden’s, and nearly 16 times Germany’s, according to United Nations data compiled by the Guardian. (These gun deaths are a big reason America has a much higher overall homicide rate, which includes non-gun deaths, than other developed nations.)

America has far more gun homicides than other developed countries.

Javier Zarracina/Vox

What’s more, there appears to be a correlation between America’s high levels of gun violence and gun ownership, as this chart from Tewksbury Lab shows:

Research reviews by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center have concluded that more gun ownership leads to more gun violence. Other factors, such as socioeconomic issues, contribute to violence, but guns are the one issue that makes America unique relative to other developed countries in comparable socioeconomic circumstances.

Studies have found this at both the state and country level. Take, for instance, this chart, from a 2007 study by Harvard researchers, showing the correlation between statewide firearm homicide victimization rates and household gun ownership after controlling for robbery rates:

A chart that shows the close correlation between levels of gun ownership and gun homicide rates. Social Science and Medicine

A more recent study from 2013, led by a Boston University School of Public Health researcher, reached similar conclusions: After controlling for multiple variables, the study found that a 1 percent increase in gun ownership correlated with a roughly 0.9 percent rise in the firearm homicide rate at the state level.

This holds up around the world. As Zack Beauchamp explained for Vox, a breakthrough analysis in the 1990s by UC Berkeley’s Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins found that the US does not, contrary to the old conventional wisdom, have more crime in general than other Western industrial nations. Instead, the US appears to have more lethal violence — and that’s driven in large part by the prevalence of guns.

“A series of specific comparisons of the death rates from property crime and assault in New York City and London show how enormous differences in death risk can be explained even while general patterns are similar,” Zimring and Hawkins wrote. “A preference for crimes of personal force and the willingness and ability to use guns in robbery make similar levels of property crime 54 times as deadly in New York City as in London.”

Guns are not the only factor that contributes to violence. (Other factors include, for example, concentrations of poverty, urbanization, and alcohol consumption.) But when researchers control for other confounding variables, they have found time and time again that America’s high levels of gun ownership and easy access to guns are major reasons the US is so much worse in terms of gun violence than its developed peers. And stricter gun policies could help.

The research shows gun control policies can help prevent violence

The research shows tightening existing gun control measures in the US would help address the toll of gun violence: Studies in both Connecticut and Missouri suggested that gun licensing laws in those states helped reduce homicides and suicides.

But as Harvard’s David Hemenway told Dylan Matthews for Vox, it would likely take decades for the mild gun control measures proposed in the US to have a significant impact. “It’s all speculation,” Hemenway said. “I suspect it would take a while (decades) for the US to get down to gun violence levels of other developed countries because a) we have so many guns which are durable, and b) we have a gun culture — we tend to use guns more often in more situations than citizens of other developed countries.”

To have a more immediate impact, then, the US would have to find a way to quickly remove the number of guns in circulation. Other countries have actually done that: In Australia, after a 1996 mass shooting, lawmakers passed new restrictions on guns and imposed a mandatory buyback program that essentially confiscated people’s guns, seizing at least 650,000 firearms.

According to one review of the evidence by Harvard researchers, Australia’s firearm homicide rate dropped by about 42 percent in the seven years after the law passed, and its firearm suicide rate fell by 57 percent.

Although it’s hard to gauge how much of this was driven by the buyback program, researchers argue it likely played some role: “First, the drop in firearm deaths was largest among the type of firearms most affected by the buyback. Second, firearm deaths in states with higher buyback rates per capita fell proportionately more than in states with lower buyback rates.”

Still, similar policies would be difficult to pass in America, a nation in which gun culture and ownership are tremendously ingrained — notably in the Second Amendment. And gun owners are backed by a powerful lobby: the National Rifle Association. Combined, these forces have stopped any serious gun legislation from passing at the federal level — although some states have passed new restrictions in the past few years.

The result is, based on the evidence, more shootings — including, perhaps, more tragedies like the Fort Lauderdale shooting.

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