United States — November 18, 2013 at 4:13 AM

America’s sitting ducks

The news sent shock waves across the world when it broke. A lone gun man had gone on a shooting rampage at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Friday November 1, killing one person and injuring two. Like others whom the news hit like a sucker punch I was alarmed and overcome by a sickening mixed bag of feelings.

My first reaction was sympathy for the victims, especially for the family of Gerardo Hernandez who now has the infamous title of first Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer to die in line of duty. Prior to the incident I nursed a feeling  it was bound to happen sooner or later because of TSA officers inability to defend themselves through no fault of their’s. I feel guilty not writing this piece sooner, maybe it would have made a difference.

The attack has left us wondering how U.S airports, law enforcement, and the TSA will respond to what we now know was the handiwork of a deranged man called Paul Anthony Ciancia, and who explicitly targeted only TSA officers. In the past the TSA has responded to incidents with very specific and sometimes controversial policy changes. For example, an attempted shoe bombing in 2001 prompted the current rule which requires all passengers to remove their shoes at security checkpoints. The agency also introduced full-body scanners at US airports following the foiled “underwear bombing” of 2009.

The question which looms in the minds of many is how will the agency react to this latest shooting at LAX? Will the agency’s reaction and anticipated changes involve arming TSA officers? No one knows for sure but if utterances made by some individuals of authority in the wake of the shooting are anything to go by, it seems arming TSA officers is not likely to happen; at least, not any time soon.

You see, I do a fair amount of travel around the U.S and each time I passed through a TSA checkpoint I noticed how vulnerable the TSA officers were. I am concerned that these hard working Americans with the responsibility of making sure passengers don’t bring onboard aircrafts unauthorized items on their persons, luggage or cargo have no weapons to protect themselves if attacked. I can not  fathom the logic behind not arming TSA officers for self-defense if confronted by a terrorist that wants to bring authorized item onboard an aircraft or train. It is not impossible for a terrorist to pretend to be a passenger, find his/her way to a checkpoint then open fire or activate a suicide vest.

TSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with authority over security of the traveling public in the United States. As response to the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center twin towers the agency was created as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act sponsored by Don Young in the United States House of Representatives and Ernest Hollings in the Senate. The Act was passed by the 107th U.S. Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush November 19, 2001. Originally part of the United States Department of Transportation, the agency was moved to the Department of Homeland Security March 9, 2003.

That said, how in the world did law makers forget to include a clause that will, at least, allow some members of the agency to be armed while on duty? What happened at LAX was a train wreck waiting to happen at a U.S airport or train station near you. If you thought your life and/or that of your family were in danger, will you hire a security firm for protection if that firm had no permit to carry fire arms especially if the bad guys you were seeking protection from have a record of using deadly force? If your answer is no then why do some people think it is okay for TSA officers not to be armed as they try to protect us?

Immediately after the attack some U.S government officials, including Tom Ridge first United States Secretary of Homeland Security (2003–2005), quickly embarked on a flurry of media offensive defending the justification of not arming TSA officers. One reason advanced by Ridge was cost. Other supporters of not arming the TSA have also cited cost as a reason. In a CNN interview after the shooting Ridge argued that the cost of arming TSA officers is prohibitive. He said doing so will mean TSA officers will have to be trained in firearms and recertified periodically. How many more shooting deaths have to occur before we realize the tradeoff between cost and lives lost is a penny wise pound foolish strategy?

Reports have it that in the past there used to be armed police officers stationed at LAX checkpoints but that they were recently redeployed to patrol around the airport rather than remain sentry at checkpoints to protect TSA officers. Opponents of arming TSA officers argue that the fact that only one TSA officers was killed shows the system in place worked. I disagree.

Based on the shooters behavior and rants before he embarked on his murderous provocation he showed signs of derangement. Ciancia in his sick mind perceived TSA officers at LAX as enemies, which is why he shot at only TSA officers and randomly asked passengers he came across if they were TSA officer before pulling the trigger. His attack was haphazard in nature because of his unstable mental status and as a result he was unable to achieve a high percentage casualty. The story would be different if this attack was some well-coordinated assault from a terrorist group or cell. So, the notion that the security model at LAX (or any U.S airport, for that matter) was responsible for the low casualty is false.

Some oppose arming TSA officers because they hate the sight of guns.  These individuals have unrealistic phobia for guns. They must have some type of psychological problem with firearms and their objection to arming TSA officers is more out of an irrational fear rather than their argument that arming TSA officers will make the United States look like a police state. So what, if it makes us look like a police state as long as the measure is able to prevent the next attack or at the very least reduce the number of casualties? We live in a different time with security issues not present thirty years ago, therefore we must adjust the way we address security vulnerabilities or risk sever consequences.

There is something about the sight of an armed security officer at a checkpoint that psychologically overwhelms, discourages and/or disarms an intended attacker. Thus the battle is won by security officers even before any bullet is fired. Terrorism to an extent is a psychological war. Both sides are trying to gain a psychological advantage over the other.

I am not advocating for every TSA officer on duty to be a gun toting and shoot-from-the-hip cow boy. I favor a middle ground whereby in addition to armed police officers that patrol airports some TSA officers are also trained, armed and stationed at checkpoints to protect their colleagues in the event of a deadly attack.

The sight of heavily armed officers at checkpoints will telegraph a psychological message to potential attackers not to even think about it. Anything to the contrary is foolish and makes every TSA officer a sitting duck.

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