Should TSA Officers Have Guns?

Erik S. Lesser/AP

Federal officials will investigate airport security policies in light of last week’s shooting at Los Angeles International Airport, including whether Transportation Security Administration officers should carry guns.

TSA Administrator John Pistole called for a review of policies with airport police after the shooting, which left one TSA officer dead and injured three others. Attorney General Eric Holder said an FBI investigation into the shooting will include a similar assessment.

“The investigation’s obviously under way and a part of that investigation will be to review the security measures that were in place, not only at LAX, but I think a review of the security arrangements that exist in other airports, as well,” Holder said.

Pistole said TSA will have to assess and evaluate the best approach for maximizing officer safety. The American Federation of Government Employees said part of that approach should be arming a certain subset of the agents.

AFGE National President J. David Cox proposed creating a “new class of TSA officers” that would be armed and could respond more quickly than police did at the LAX shooting.

“At this time, we feel a larger and more consistent armed presence in screening areas would be a positive step in improving security for both [transportation security officers] and the flying public,” Cox said. Pistole did not rule out the possibility of arming agency employees, saying officials will look at “what provides the best possible security.”

AFGE originally suggested simply giving all TSA officers arrest power, but later said such a move would not go far enough. Currently, TSA employees are not law enforcement officers, but instead focus on screenings for the flights themselves. 

Lawmakers also weighed in on the need to further evaluate the safety procedures for TSA officers, including the possibility of arming the agents. Republicans such as Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. -- who has repeatedly bashed TSA and has introduced legislation to strip its employees of their badges and “officer” titles -- were quick to dismiss giving officers guns. Blackburn said arming TSA workers “would only make matters worse.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also dismissed the idea of providing TSA officers with firearms, saying “there are other ways that we can secure the safety of these airports.” Instead, Reid said, airports should standardize the security measures taken at terminals across the country. After announcing the security policy review, Holder told CNN he too opposes arming TSA workers.

Several lawmakers supported the reviews and have called on TSA to look at how to better coordinate security efforts with local police.

Cox said that anti-TSA rhetoric puts the officers at risk, as they are not only subject to frequent physical attacks, but also daily verbal assaults.

Paul Ciancia, the alleged shooter, reportedly asked individuals in the terminal if they were TSA employees, and did not shoot when they said no. Witnesses said Ciancia “cursed the TSA” while moving through the terminal. 

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