Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) channeled his outrage over the death of a French bulldog on a United Airlines flight this week and announced he will introduce legislation which would prohibit airlines from placing animals in overhead bins––an arrangement that a flight attendant had reportedly insisted upon.
"I will be filing a bill tomorrow that will prohibit airlines from putting animals in overhead bins," the senator wrote in a message to his Twitter followers.
"Violaters will face significant fines," he added. "Pets are family."
I will be filing a bill tomorrow that will prohibit airlines from putting animals in overhead bins. Violators will… https://t.co/K5nUCYEGvx— John Kennedy (@John Kennedy)1521062938.0
And he remained true to his word, announcing the following day that he, joined by his colleague, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), had introduced the Welfare of Our Furry Friends Act
Today, I introduced the Welfare of Our Furry Friends Act, also known as WOOFF, w my colleague @SenCortezMasto. Our… https://t.co/92bTqlYUS9— John Kennedy (@John Kennedy)1521129747.0
The dog had been traveling with a woman who boarded the flight with her infant and older daughter in tow. The dog died during the more than three-hour trip after a flight attendant ordered the family to place the dog in an overhead bin, even though the family followed all the rules about flying with a pet in an airliner's cabin and kept the dog in a TSA-approved pet carrier.
Kennedy also addressed a strongly worded letter to the airline, demanding an "immediate explanation" for the death of the animal.
"For many people, pets are members of the family," Kennedy writes in a letter addressed to J. Scott Kirby, the president of United Airlines. "They should not be treated like insignificant cargo. Frankly, they shouldn't be placed in the cargo hold much less an overhead bin."
He continues: "This pattern of animal deaths and injuries is simply inexcusable. I write to demand an immediate explanation for the number of animals who have died recently in United Airlines' care."
In a lot of respects, dogs are how people ought to be. What happened on @united was disgraceful and doesn’t need to… https://t.co/p1FXP7wZO3— John Kennedy (@John Kennedy)1521121457.0
According to data provided by the Department of Transportation, 24 pets died aboard airliners in 2017, and United leads the pack, with 18 of those 24 pets dying while traveling aboard the airline.
Speaking to reporters about his letter, Kennedy said:
They have some explaining to do. I mean there are days up here on Capitol Hill I love dogs better than people. This isn't something to joke about. What happened to this pet was disgraceful. I can't imagine how the pet's owner feels. But we need to get to the bottom of it. And I know we have many important things to do -- but this is important too.
Kennedy's critics remain unimpressed, however, questioning why the legislator would move so quickly to address the issue of pet deaths aboard major airlines while failing to support reasonable gun control measures in the wake of the last month's shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which has galvanized millions of people into advocacy, particularly the teenage survivors of the massacre––many of whom are eligible to vote in the 2018 midterm elections this year.
Among the more prominent voices criticizing Kennedy for his stance is journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who currently serves as contributing editor for Vanity Fair.
"The dog death was terrible. And GOP lawmakers are rushing legislation to make sure animals arent placed in plane overhead bins," Eichenwald wrote. "Meanwhile, 17 children are in their graves, their intestines blown out by bullets designed to tear people apart, still ignored by those same lawmakers."
The dog death was terrible. And GOP lawmakers are rushing legislation to make sure animals arent placed in plane ov… https://t.co/2YGii8DCG9— Kurt Eichenwald (@Kurt Eichenwald)1521128721.0
Eichenwald was not alone. Many others weighed in with similar observations, at times leveling the senator's own words against him.
Asked about bump stocks, Senator John Kennedy said this: "I do not think that the United States Congress can legislate away evil."— Steven Dennis (@Steven Dennis)1507085371.0
Parents lost their kids last month in a school shooting, kids are protesting all over the world to get the attenti… https://t.co/oTnIO3o4Ha— Calvin McNairl (@Calvin McNairl)1521126591.0
17 people die in a high school and a month later there's a nationwide protest to get the attention of lawmakers. O… https://t.co/SVEpaUbT3u— Dennis Mersereau (@Dennis Mersereau)1521065469.0
@SenJohnKennedy Your priorities speak volumes: Pets are people too, but school children are expendable for your 2nd… https://t.co/29b3jThdAu— Julia Peacock (@Julia Peacock)1521088072.0
@SenJohnKennedy @Bencjacobs So Senator let’s see if I understand here. One pet is put in a overhead and dies and yo… https://t.co/jwuyCPVt3u— Todd Darnell (@Todd Darnell)1521066815.0
@KLChouinard @wxdam You know what that dog needed? A gun.— Dan Shafer (@Dan Shafer)1521078340.0
If only he cared as much about his human constituents... He has supported ripping away lifesaving healthcare numero… https://t.co/EEERvoJqvl— Louisiana Democrats (@Louisiana Democrats)1521127533.0
It's doubtful that anyone actually disputes the merits of a law designed to protect our pets, but Kennedy's proposed legislation, which he delivered almost as promptly as he'd announced it, has angered gun control advocates who've admonished him for being beholden to the NRA and the gun lobby.
Kennedy, who has accepted more than $200,000 in contributions from the NRA over the course of his political career, scoffed at suggestions that the United States needs gun control legislation in the wake of such violence during an interview with CNN last month.
"I don't think we need more gun control laws," Kennedy told CNN's John Berman at the time.
"Not a single one?" Berman asked.
"No. I think we need more idiot control," Kennedy replied, referring to those who perpetuate mass shootings. He then clarified his usage of the word "idiot":
I'm talking to the people who do this, some of whom are mentally ill. And to them I would say, OK, misuse of the word idiot. But I'm talking about other people. We just automatically assume some of these folks are mentally ill. I happen to believe there is evil in the world.
He later added that while he supports "the spirit" of legislation, such as the kind proposed by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), who has emerged as a powerful voice in the gun control movement since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary made international headlines, he "just don't think it is going to do anything."
"We have the tools in place. They're not being implemented... The NICS database has holes big enough to drive a Mack truck through," he said.
The day Kennedy announced his legislation also happened to be the same day as the National School Walk Out. Thousands of students across the nation walked out of class to demand stricter gun laws in a historic show of political solidarity just one month after the Parkland shooting. The 17-minute walkout––one minute for each of the 17 victims who died after gunman Nikolas Cruz stormed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an assault rifle––has only magnified their cause further.
Kennedy has not issued a statement in response to his critics.