After LAX shooting, calls to arm TSA agents are misguided

The shooting at Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 1 was rattling, to say the least. Alleged shooter Paul Ciancia specifically targeted Transportation Security Administration agents, successfully killing one and wounding two others and a passenger. The shooting brings new life to post-9/11 concerns regarding airport security. According to CNN, TSA officials are considering arming the roughly 50,000 agents that monitor airport security.

The very notion of adding more guns to the equation is entirely irrational and counterintuitive to reaching the goal of improved security provisions beyond the terminals.

This incident shows that the area between the outside curb and the terminals is still relatively danger-prone. Most airports have minimal security oversight in these areas by TSA agents. Typically, a small local police presence surveys the area for threats. Meanwhile, the vast majority of security is positioned to protect the planes.

This shooting highlights the shortcomings of the TSA when it comes to protecting the actual airport – not just the planes that come and go. One major issue is that TSA agents do not have the power to make arrests. When an issue arises, agents must seek out one of the few police officers in the area. Giving TSA agents the power to arrest is a dangerous move, but it is much preferable to arming them.

Arming TSA agents effectively adds 50,000 firearms to our nation’s airports. With the TSA operating at over 450 airports in the United States, according to the TSA website, that is an average of 111 new guns at each location, which is a brash and short-term solution to a much larger problem.

The pre-terminal areas in many airports operate similarly to shopping malls. There are shops and restaurants, which facilitate a great deal of pedestrian traffic. If TSA agents found a reason to discharge their weapons, there would be high risk for civilian casualties. Not to mention violence could quickly escalate once the numerous armed agents saw a potential issue unfold.

It is also important to examine incidents involved with armed pilots. Pilots became armed shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks under the Federal Flight Deck Officer program. There was a case in which a firearm accidentally discharged in the cockpit of an airbus in 2010. In addition, a civilian accidentally grabbed a pilot’s bag that contained a firearm in 2011 in a post-terminal inspection.

If TSA agents are armed, there must be heavy consideration in regard to how these kinds of situations will be avoided. With so many guns on the ground, it would be difficult to monitor them entirely, and accidents would likely happen more often.

Police officers are a more dependable source of armed security, as many officers are well versed in the dangers of discharging weapons. It cannot be expected that TSA agents would go through the same rigorous arms training as police officers do.

Increasing the number of local officers deployed to airports is a cheaper and more efficient alternative to arming TSA agents. While the security concerns for airports need to be addressed beyond the security of airplanes, adding more guns to the ground is not the answer. The accompanying dangers are far too great.