The Fort Lauderdale attack: it’s not the gun. Again. Still.

Posted by:

Fort Lauderdale airport baggage claim area

Just a few days ago a man with a history of mental issues boarded an airline in Alaska, after declaring his gun in checked luggage as required by law. He sat down in his seat and the suitcase containing his pistol and ammunition was placed in the cargo hold beneath him. When he got to his destination in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, he retrieved his luggage, went into the men’s room, got out his pistol and loaded it, and walked back into the crowded baggage claim area where he started shooting. He killed five people and seriously wounded six others.

The gun prohibitionists, true to form, wasted no time in blaming the tragedy on the “widespread availability of guns”. The gun-centric people in the Second Amendment community did exactly the same thing, but from the other side — blaming Florida’s laws against concealed carry in non-secure areas of the airport for the inability of the other passengers to protect themselves.

Both of them miss the point entirely. If the gun isn’t the source of the evil, then it can’t be the source of salvation from that evil. In both cases it’s up to the people involved.

Missed opportunities

Instead of seeing a Second Amendment story in this incident, I saw instead a story about fighting back against an attacker.

Or not.

What stunned me about this incident was the number of first-hand accounts from survivors who were just a few feet from the attacker. One person said that he had dropped to his knees and at one point the gunman was standing over him; another said that the shooter was so close she could smell the gunpowder every time a round was fired. There are more such reports.

The gun, reported to be a Walther PPS M2 (I’ve seen pictures of the gun at the crime scene, and the supposition appears to be correct) has a magazine capacity of seven rounds. That means the killer had to reload his gun at least once, and there are reports he reloaded more than that.

Be very clear on what happened: in a confined space with hundreds of people this fellow was able to shoot through at least two magazines of ammo, possibly reloading two or more times, killing and wounding all of those people, and walked out to surrender to the authorities without so much as a bruise or a scratch.

The problem isn’t the gun, and the solution isn’t a new law — regardless of whether that new law tightens or eases restrictions on firearms possession in airports. The problem is  we’re not teaching people to fight back.

The gun neither the problem nor the only solution

The gun is not a magic death ray no matter who wields it. Surprisingly, people on both sides of the Second Amendment argument believe that it is; prohibitionists think all one needs to do is point it in the general direction of innocents and they get mowed down. Many of those on “our” side often say (and sadly seem to actually believe) the *only* thing that can possibly stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Both sides of the argument instill in the general public a belief that they’re helpless in the face of a mass murderer on a shooting spree. If you’re against guns, you’re told they’re evil killing devices against which you are helpless; if you’re pro-gun, you’re told if you don’t have your own you can’t effectively defend yourself. Both are wrong, but both dominate the discussion.

It’s only by getting past this focus on the gun, pro or con, will we be able to help people help themselves.

Self defense is more than just shooting

In the case of the Fort Lauderdale attacker, he opened fire in a room full of people who were carrying large, heavy bludgeons, also known as “suitcases”. There were no doubt fire extinguishers hanging on walls and support posts. If nothing else he was just one guy surrounded by hundreds of people, many of whom who were within arm’s reach. He was just one guy who had to stop shooting more than once to change magazines. Had he been rushed by even a couple of people during those times he could have easily been taken out of the fight.

Instead, people cowered because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do.

It’s been said that the only true weapon is the mind. A couple of decades ago I might have argued that, but as I’ve learned and evolved over the years I’ve come to realize the wisdom of the statement. You first have to decide you will fight, that you will do whatever it takes to protect yourself and by extension the innocents around you. The will to fight exists independently of the tools you have available.

Decide that you will fight, and then learn to do it even if you don’t have your preferred tools available. Help others develop the same will to protect themselves. If we as a culture did so, people like this guy wouldn’t be able to shoot and kill unimpeded. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to defend yourself, and regardless of where you stand on the gun control issue don’t think of the gun as magical. It’s just a tool wielded by a very vulnerable human being.

Learn to attack the vulnerability however you can.

– Grant


Photo by Flickr user Ana Rosa T, under Creative Commons 2.0 license

Listen to this blog – and subscribe to it on iTunes by clicking this link!



About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
  Related Posts


  1. Pete  January 12, 2017

    There will always be sheep and sheep dogs. Period.
    One can not predict with any level of confidence how a crisis will be evaluated by various people.
    Self preservation is one of the most powerful emotions a human has.

    If someone wants to act, Gun or no gun, yet they are unprepared with some form of training, they are idiots depending on the scenario presented.

    Even soldiers who taste combat thrust upon them the very first time will seek cover.
    This is not cowardice, it is self preservation; a required trait to give time for any self action to be decided upon.

  2. Robert  January 9, 2017

    With the amount of people in that area,I feel that having the situational awareness needed the aftermath would have been a lot less.InI the time the shooter took to drop his magazine of his weaponand reload, people there could have taken action to disable the shooter.To those who were paralyzed in fear I say “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”. An education of understanding how firearms work may have helped with reducing the damage done. I agree with Grant when he says that both sides of the gun argument here are not the answer to the problem.

    • kev  January 11, 2017

      With how fast a magazine can be reloaded, it is not really feasible to try and rush an attacker. best chance to do that would be if the firearm jams as even experianced shooters take a few seconds to clear it depending on the jam.

      • Grant Cunningham  January 11, 2017

        That flies in the face of both real incidents where people have been taken down and with the results of carefully run force-on-force evaluations.

        Don’t be swayed by what a practiced competitive shooter can do with his or her favorite gear carried in the open. Yes, they can do sub-one-second reloads, but for someone who’s not that well practiced using magazines that aren’t staged at exactly the right angles AND being caught by surprise by the empty gun, it’s MUCH slower — in fact, your own statement of “a few seconds” being needed is far closer to the reality.

        This is why I constantly harp on the notion of context, and it applies here too. What can be done in a carefully contrived competition context isn’t what happens outside of that environment. Not by a long shot.

  3. M. McCloud  January 9, 2017

    Sorry, but as selfish as it seems, my first goal is survival. I would hope that SOMEONE would disable the guy, but it’s not going to be ME and it’s not going to be my husband (if I can help it). And I guarantee that this is how other people in such a scenario would think. You’ve been watching too much TV if you think those “heroes” are standing by waiting to save others.

    :Let’s face it, most of the “heroes” are soldiers and cops who are trained in self defense. Also, many heroes I’ve met have stated that they didn’t even have time to think about the consequences. Well, thank God for people like that, but I’m not one of them.

    I’m sorry to say it, but if a firecracker goes off, I can make it to the next county in 20 seconds. I wish I were the hero type, but I’m not. I would been paralyzed with fear and I’d have been shot, like most of the people who were there.

    • Grant Cunningham  January 9, 2017

      There are lots of accounts available of regular, ordinary people stepping up and fighting back. It’s not just soldiers and cops, which is kind of my whole point: if you allow yourself to think that it takes someone special to survive, you’re halfway to losing already. You have to decide for yourself that you will survive.

      If your first goal is in fact survival you have to prepare yourself for the possibility of fighting back. I hate to sound harsh, but if you’ve already decided that it’s simply not one of your options survival isn’t really your goal — hope is. Hope doesn’t usually work out all that well. That’s not to say running away isn’t a good option, because it is; but what if you can’t? Will you just curl up and wait for the end? I sure hope not!

      It’s completely okay to have a survival plan that doesn’t necessarily include fighting back as a *first* choice. For instance, on Personal Defense Network you can find many articles about a proper response plan to a public attack. That plan includes:

      Evade — get away if you possibly can, but only if you can do so without increasing your exposure to danger. If you can’t –
      Barricade — find a defensible place where you can do something to keep the bad guy from getting to you. Simply hiding in a bathroom stall doesn’t count.
      Arm — look for weapons in your environment if you’re not carrying any. Think stabbing, bludgeoning, affecting the attacker’s eyesight or breathing.
      Fight — decide that you’ll do whatever it takes to stop the bad guy from continuing to hurt you or others, using whatever tools or skills you have.

      Yes, run if you can. But don’t limit yourself to that one and only option.

      • Kristine Nagel  January 10, 2017


  4. Kristine Nagel  January 9, 2017

    This was my thought but I get that the left has vilified the “gun” so much that people won’t even defend themselves when there is a lull in the hatred being spewed during the reload to FIGHT BACK. They lie there patiently and wait until the gunman is ready to start shooting at them again! If only one person risked action it might not go so well but if that person could know and beliwve that others would join you, if a person could be certain others WOULD step up it COULD be stopped. I agree, stop being afraid of the gun and take advantage of the opportunity to physically fight back, it’s not an impossible idea. (I too, was not there.)

  5. Spencer  January 9, 2017

    It often seems the more culturally and technologically advanced a society becomes the less willing or able its people and institutions are at taking care of themselves in emergency situations like mass shootings. And you are correct that we–and here I’m referring to Americans in general–have been conditioned for a long time not to fight back against violent lunatics. That’s the job of law enforcement, we’re repeatedly admonished, and so we best hunker down and hide, plead with attackers, and hope for the best. Even so, when intrepid folks successfully resist murderous nut-balls they sometimes are prosecuted for violations of arbitrary criminal statutes and sued by the larcenous families of the deceased scumbags. These latter possibilities understandably have a chilling effect on anyone’s right to self defense, mine included.

    Another component of the self-defense debates that is not examined in much detail is what to do with violent mentally ill people, like the Fort Lauderdale shooter and many others, who run at large in our cities and cause trouble. Ever since the administration of the sainted Ronald Reagan closed down most of the mental asylums in America the former inhabitants have flooded our inner city streets, created tramp encampments (aka homeless sites), and overwhelm hospital emergency rooms, jails and prisons. While it may be true that most of these people are not likely to harm others, we don’t know for sure—until a tragedy strikes. When America had and used its extensive lunatic asylums it didn’t suffer much from barking mad crazies on its streets. At least that’s my memory as a kid during the late fifties and early sixties.

    Our nation can continue to pass draconian gun laws that don’t work, like in Chicago, or it can permanently warehouse its dangerous nutcases. That’s what a sensible country would do but here in America it would require quite an expenditure of money that very few would want to pay.


Add a Comment

  1. The SOS | The Zelman Partisans  January 12, 2017