Nearly 60 percent of respondents in the latest Reason-Rupe poll said they believed TSA agents at airports ought to carry guns. 35 percent opposed the idea, and only 4 percent gave the measured response that it "depends." The high level of support for arming the agents oppose it that have operated airport checkpoints since 9/11 could be a result of last month's shooting at Los Angeles International Airport, in which the first TSA agent to die in the line of duty was killed. The alleged shooter reportedly went to the airport looking specifically to target a TSA agent.
For more than a decade, TSA agents at airports have been unarmed, with no major incidents at any airport checkpoint. Indeed, in most security-related incidents involving TSA at the airport, it's the agents accused of misconduct and criminal activity, largely theft. Earlier this year, a GAO study found misconduct by TSA agents up 26 percent in 3 years. A 2011 report in the LA Times noted that fewer than 500 TSA employees had been arrested for alleged theft, about .3 percent of the workforce, but acknowledged it could just be that "culprits just don't get caught very often." In its twelve years of existence, however, the kinds of situations where a TSA agent might need to be armed have been even rarer, with that first fatality occurring just a few months ago. It's far from clear arming TSA agents would have any positive effect anyway. At LAX, for example, about 400 armed police officers already patrol the airport. Arming the agents that have to engage with every single traveler at the airport will only make an uncomfortable situation for flyers even more so, with no benefit to show for it.