The Folly of Arming TSA Agents

Because navigating the airport security gauntlet is already such a joy.

For travelers, the modern airport has become an obstacle course of security precautions, where everything not prohibited is mandatory. Boarding a plane is an exercise in indignity that strips passengers of jackets, shoes and belts before subjecting them to machines that see through their clothes and security agents who touch their junk.

In spite of all this, airports are not immune from lunatics with bad intentions. Last week, a man with a rifle shot three Transportation Security Administration agents at Los Angeles International Airport, killing one.

This episode evoked the same response as every other aviation attack: the impulse to devise a quick solution. The union representing TSA employees urged that at least some security screeners be armed—a request administrator John Pistole promised to consider. As it stands, said David Borer, general counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees, "they're sitting ducks like everyone else."

That's true. But it's not true that equipping them with guns would alter their plight. Complete safety, for agents or passengers, is an impossible dream.

Even armed agents can't necessarily foil a determined gunman who is willing to die. And imagine the chaos of a screener trying to shoot an attacker (or worse, a group of them) amid a mob of travelers. The result could be more bloodshed, not less.

Giving screeners guns would be no help against someone with a bomb, who could detonate a device before anyone knew what was happening. Nor would they prevent terrorists and maniacs from carrying out attacks at ticket counters, baggage carousels or taxi stands. Aspiring killers adapt to new preventive steps, and this one would not be hard to outwit.

Maybe the change would divert an assailant from screeners to civilians. But that would be an odd achievement. Aren't the screeners there to protect travelers, not the other way around?

"Wherever you establish a security perimeter, by definition, there's stuff outside it," MIT aviation security expert Arnold Barnett told The New York Times. You just can't expand it far enough to include everything. The calls to expand the existing one bring to mind Abraham Lincoln's story about the farmer who said, "I ain't greedy about land; I only just wants what jines mine."

The security-above-all mindset, however, is not easy to overcome. After years of relieving travelers of tiny pocketknives, the TSA decided its employees should allow them in order to focus on more formidable dangers, like explosives. But outcries from flight attendants unions and members of Congress forced the agency to retreat.

Never mind that terrorists can board a flight with scissors, knitting needles and 6-inch screwdrivers, which could be rendered more lethal than a penknife. Never mind that stabbings of flight attendants were not a major problem before 9/11 precipitated the ban. The driving assumption is that you can never be too careful.

But you can, of course. Training TSA agents to carry firearms would cost money. Deploying more police in airports, another option, would cost more as well, since cops get paid more than screeners. Concentrating cops at checkpoints would invite terrorists to locate their massacres elsewhere in the terminal.

Not to mention that given the rarity of attacks like the one at LAX—the first time in the TSA's 12-year history that an agent was killed on duty—none of these steps may save a single life. They make about as much sense as putting the National Guard in movie theaters in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., massacre.

Actually, they make less sense, in light of the risks of introducing thousands of guns into small, crowded spaces filled with people who really hate being there. The change is more likely to lead to an agent shooting someone than to prevent someone from shooting an agent.

Equipping screeners with deadly weapons would also heighten the sense of coercion and intrusion that makes air travel resemble admission to a medium-security prison. Being ordered around and physically groped by a uniformed officer is bad, but it would be worse if he had a Glock on his hip.

The suspect in the LAX attack apparently had some grudge that drove him to target airport agents. If anti-TSA fury can motivate murder, it is not the height of wisdom to make the screeners more intimidating.

The obvious lesson of our post-9/11 experience is that whenever we target one danger, others emerge. But it's a lesson that can always be repeated.

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  • John||

    Whenever you arm someone, they will eventually use the weapon. What harm is being prevented here that outweighs then inevitable unjustified shooting this policy will produce?

    Not seeing it.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Especially since the TSA already has a reputation of hiring... ah, "lesser lights".

  • ||

    The last TSAgent I had a conversation with had a "degree" in "criminal justice" from one of those daytime TV-advertised unaccredited schools.

    At least she had that much, though. I bet many of her colleagues don't.

  • BakedPenguin||

    "That's why they made me team leader!"

  • Libertarius||

    The arming of the TSA will be glorious success, after they swear blood oath to Generale Obobo!

  • Free Society||

    The TSA agents in Detroit wear their uniforms like thugs on their to Laqueesha's house party. Not stoked about more armed government goons.

  • montana mike||

    If you live in the real world you are ignoring the utter incompetence of the TSA...These are incompetent human beings(given the fuckup they work for) and giving them weapons is insanity.

  • creech||

    Not to mention some bozo discharging his weapon accidently or "going postal" on his fellow agents or doing a murder-suicide because the spouse was having an affair.

  • Killazontherun||

    That's why I support having them armed. 'Going Postal' was an internal problem.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Also note that under fed rules, an armed fed is a LEO and so it paid something like three times what these ametuer security theatre actors are.
    ... and endless overtime!

  • Cdr Lytton||

    And they're all going to Glynco for two months too.

  • Vulgar Madman||

    How many of these goobers do you think
    Would make it through quantico?

  • playa manhattan||

    When the new specs for Federal Air Marshall came out in 2001, training was only 2 weeks long...

  • playa manhattan||

    They would all have to go through a background and psych exam, though. Based upon my experiences at LAX, less than 5 percent would pass, even with todays relaxed standards.

  • ||

    Do we believe that LAX is a representative example? I'm so used to the shitsandwich of LAX that my TSA experiences everywhere else have been extremely pleasant.

  • GamerFromJump||

    I've had more pleasant experiences flying out of Beijing then Detroit. And I speak very little Chinese.

  • montana mike||

    random luck and decreased expectations because these TSA people don't think something can happen at their post in Boise, Idaho, yet they are getting paid the same bucks as people in higher risk posts. We should hire Mossad, they are the experts at assessing risk and have a long and successful history doing so.

    It ain't PC but in this corner of the market they have a decent track record, and I'd bet they are cheaper than Napolitanos bureaucracy.

  • DenverJay||

    No, we should disband the whole sorry excuse for security theater. You want to make flights safe? Encourage the general flying public to bring firearms on board. 9/11 was caused by primitive barbarians with fucking BOX CUTTERS. Box cutters fer Christ's sake. Then on the flight where the passengers heard what had happened, they rushed the terrorists while unarmed. Imagine if one or two of them had had a piece?
    My copy of the Constitution doesn't say "...being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed... unless you are on an airplane or in a school."
    Nor does it say jack about "the TSA being necessary for the security of a free state!

  • StalkerTexasStranger||

    Surprisingly enough, there are armed Federal employees that are not considered LEO's. I worked as a GS-85 at the gate of a military base for 16 months, and was armed with a Beretta, OC spray, and ASP baton. We turned our handguns in at the end of the shift, as did the civilian police officers. That being said, I think arming the TSA would be a terrible decision.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Posted this earlier under the last TSA article but since this one is more on topic, here it is again:

    If TSA arms its officers screeners, where will the first mislaid firearm be found?:

    A) In someone's checked luggage.

    B) On a restroom counter in the "sterile" area.

    C) Onboard a plane during flight.

    Double bonus score if in Scenario A, the traveller doesn't find it until checking in to his return flight at La Guardia and he is then arrested for illegal possession.

  • playa manhattan||

    Chief Wiggum:
    " Becoming a cop is not something that happens overnight. It takes one solid weekend of training to get that badge!"

  • The Late P Brooks||

    WARNING: In the Screening Area, all instructions given by TSA agents have the force of law. Disrespectful behavior and joking will be treated as criminal behavior. Thank you, and have a pleasant flight.

  • Loki||

    And remember, failure to OBEY a lawful order is grounds for immediate summary execution.

  • Norma Jean Almodovar||

    But before execution, an anal probe, colonoscopy, three or four enemas will be performed on the disobedient citizen to search for drugs, or knives or guns... who knows what is up the booty hatch?

  • grey||

    How about we allow my fellow passengers to bring their guns. That would make me feel safer. /no sarcasm

  • ||

    ^^This.

  • Old Dave||

    Precisely.

    "As it stands, said David Borer, general counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees, "they're sitting ducks like everyone else."

    So, the TSA goon squads get guns but the rest of us are still sitting ducks.

  • BillCa||

    Back in the 70's, guns were relegated to checked-baggage only. This was in response to several hijackings, including the infamous "D.B. Cooper" hijacking. At that time, within our circle of friends, someone suggested passing out single-shot pistols chambered for the anemic .25 ACP. Imagine the hijacker facing between 100 and 300 people angry that they won't get to their destination on time. If someone jumps up and hollers "Allahu Ackbar!" nearby passengers will turn him into hamburger.

  • db||

    I'm sure America's firearms manufacturers will take a principled stand and refuse to supply millions of firearms at costs of $600-$1200 apiece to this superfluous agency.

  • montana mike||

    Your troll time is duly noted, go bask in your off topic jacking off, you are busted dbag.
    .

  • RonnieNM||

    Not that I disagree, but a lot of these comments are exactly the same arguments that Progs make when pushing gun control. I.e. If you have a weapon you'll use it. Having guns won't prevent crime. People are too stupid to be trusted with them. What is the trump card in this particular case?

  • playa manhattan||

    Qualified immunity and a double standard.

  • playa manhattan||

    or what grey ghost said.

  • ||

    TSA agents would have the opportunity to arm themselves at our expense, while the rest of us would not. The fears expressed by the TSA agents are the same as those of the rest of us, so instead of monopolizing gun possession, the rest of us should simply be allowed to be armed on an airplane, unless specifically against the terms and conditions of the airliner, in which case, we would have the opportunity to choose a different airliner.

  • DenverJay||

    The people have rights, the Government and its goons do not.

  • Gray Ghost||

    What is the trump card in this particular case?

    Federal employees that are armed will be classed as law enforcement officers. LEOs get qualified immunity in the performance of their duties; ordinary people don't. This qualified immunity, and lessened consequences from screwing up with a gun, leads to greater contempt of safe gun handling and increased use of a gun, where a ordinary citizen using a gun would find themselves in jail, sued into financial oblivion, or both.

    Plus, have you seen the kind of people TSA hires? Think many or most of them would have the patience or interest to qualify for a concealed handgun license?

    Those are the reasons I am concerned about everyone in the TSA getting to carry. Not that I fly much or at all anymore.

  • RonnieNM||

    What if TSA agents were not classified as LEO with qualified immunity? Would there be any other reason?

    Yeah TSA agents aren't the brightest crayons in the box, so again I agree. I'm just wondering if there is another reason why we don't want them armed beyond the same progressive arguments against gun control.

    Let's also say gun rights were emphatically upheld, would we then not have a problem with TSA agents being allowed to pack if we could too? Is the trump card their arbitrary monopoly of firearm possession in airports?

  • Gray Ghost||

    If anyone who had a CHL could carry concealed in an airport (maybe even on an airliner too), then I wouldn't have a problem with any TSA employee who had a CHL from carrying on the job. The airport's liability carrier might, but I wouldn't. I live in Texas. I expect that around 5 percent of the people around me are armed, unless I'm in a prohibited place. Nothing else happens. People are usually responsible about it and the crime stats for CHL holders reflects that (something like 1/10th that of the regular population, IIRC.)

    I don't even know if it's the monopoly, so much as it's the QI. If LEOs were like other credentialed professionals, could be sued for malpractice or negligence, and consequently needed malpractice insurance, I'd feel better about it. Mainly because the specter of losing their home, possessions, and livelihood might bring back a sense of caution and prudence to a profession that increasingly looks like it's abandoning those virtues.

    Again, if I, a soon-to-be CHL holder, but not a LEO or ADA or other criminal justice organs' employee, screw up with a gun, I'm going to jail and probably getting sued. This makes me extremely careful. Give me license to use whatever force I wish, with impunity, and I'll be corrupted into being less careful towards others. It's just human nature.

  • montana mike||

    That is certainly alarming, in my limited dealings with TSA, I wouldn't give them access to video games, much less firearms...but that is what dear leader has given us.

  • Square||

    "The union representing TSA employees urged that at least some security screeners be armed."

    Not insignificant, I think, that their union is seemingly the one initiating the push. I worked security many, many years ago, and one fundamental fact in the business is that an armed post pays a higher rate than an unarmed post.

    More armed posts = higher union dues. Just sayin'.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    What is the trump card in this particular case?

    We're talking about arming people who shouldn't even be there in the first place.

    Abolish the entire organization, don't give it more power.

  • montana mike||

    Ain't happening Pbrooks, wishful thinking, though I agree these idiots should not have access to firearms...in the near future it is what it is. If wishes were horses, bro, man up and accept a reality and take it from there.

  • Pinky||

    Wait just a minute here. I think the union may be on to something; arming people so that they may defend themselves.

  • montana mike||

    Love the trollage pinky, lol.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    They want to arm those people? Are they fucking mad?

  • montana mike||

    Yes they are Rufus,and yes they are mad, people that believe in freedom are a minority.

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  • ||

    Right now, TSA often try to stop people from using cameras anywhere near them, despite official TSA policy stating that such use is perfectly okay.

    TSA agents often try to enlist law enforcement or airport security to enforce their unlawful, against-policy demands.

    Can you just imagine what it would be like if the TSA could cut out the middle-man and simply demand a photographer throw his camera in the garbage can at gun point...with a deadly force 'or else' if the guy refuses?

  • XM||

    If TSA's not armed, then they're should be more armed guards around them. LAX was receiving threats from disgruntled employees and had a dry ice bomb go off somewhere.

    Did no one in the see a guy with a rifle walking into the airport? He walked up to the TSA agent, asked him who he was, and whipped out a gun out of nowhere to shoot him? We're not talking about some concealed handgun here. It's like the navy yard shooting all over again.

  • GamerFromJump||

    If we think actual cops have all the discipline of a Rottweiler on meth, imagine giving firearms to the guys who probably couldn't qualify to be mall cops.

  • montana mike||

    Bingo, sad but true, we are spending billions to hire employees that are unqualified to work at McDonalds.

    That is a sad state of affairs, but it is where we are at...

  • Will Nonya||

    As a frequent air traveler I have yet to come across a TSA agent who can put things back in my bag in a manner even resembling their original state. This makes me highly doubtful of their ability to effectively handle firearms.

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  • thestarsbegintofall||

    While I agree arming TSA agents is silly, some of the reasons given are the same ones used to argue against concealed carry. Just because someone has a firearm in public does not mean that they are automatically a threat to those around them when an active shooter is present... Crowds and guns can get along.

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