As more information continues to come out about the incident in Los Angeles, the question I have been getting most today relates to whether TSA screeners should be armed. Well, here’s some insight – there are TSA personnel that are armed. Obviously the air marshals, but also the Assistant Federal Security Director for Law Enforcement. It is a law enforcement position at most large commercial service airports, but they typically aren’t standing at the checkpoint.
But, we’re talking about screeners here – at first pass, my inclination is to disagree. I will say that I am a supporter of the Second Amendment, not just in theory but in practice. I own firearms and possess a concealed carry permit, and carrying is a right I occasionally exercise. So, why would I disagree with screeners carrying guns?
There are a couple of reasons. First thing that comes to mind is weapon retention. Screening checkpoints are very crowded and confusing environments and it would likely be very easy to take a sidearm away from an individual who is not a law-enforcement officer. Second, screeners are there to conduct screening functions not to be law-enforcement. They are focused on whether individuals are in possession of prohibited items and to get them through the checkpoint. If a gun is found, law enforcement is notified. If someone pulls out a gun and starts shooting, every airport has an active shooter response plan, and law enforcement responds. They cannot be in all places at all times so to a certain extent, there is always a little bit of protection that we are responsible for ourselves and there is almost no external force that will stop someone from pulling out a gun and shooting someone at point-blank range.
There is a scene in the movie End of Watch, where an assailant attempts to shoot one of the officers at point-blank range. The officer doesn’t have time to pull his gun and shoot back – he only has time to execute a standard gun-defense technique (grabbing the gun while stepping to the side out of the line of fire). Now he’s wrestling using both hands and still doesn’t have the opportunity to pull his own gun – his partner ends up helping out.
The international model is that security personnel (usually contractors by the way) perform the travel document check, security questioning and screening functions, while law enforcement patrol the terminals public, sterile and checkpoint areas. In the U.S. law enforcement officers typically provide overwatch over the public areas and the screening checkpoint.. Being a former practitioner of Krav Maga and recently blogged on my other website www.achievementprice.com about self-defense and Tim Larkin’s book, Survive the Unthinkable, I would be very supportive of providing basic self-defense including weapons-defense training, to screeners. The idea is to be able to survive the first few seconds of the fight, gain control of the weapon and have others ready to jump in to assist.
In the situation in Los Angeles, based on what we know so far, there would likely not have been time for a few of the TSA personnel to have pulled a gun and fired back, but again, details are just now coming to light. There might of been time to execute a weapons defense maneuver to get the gun from the attacker or rendered him physically incapable of using it. At least the knowledge of how to do this and the awareness of the potential threat better prepares individuals for that type of situation.
At international airports there are personnel who are armed and conduct inspection related functions, I am talking about officers from Customs and Border Protection (CBP). But these are fully trained law-enforcement officers who must stay qualified in the use of their firearm. So maybe the next natural thought is to send over 50,000 screeners through the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and just make them all cops.
Presently, this is overkill considering that there are other security effective and cost effective solutions by adding some boots on the ground by putting a few more law enforcement officers in the public areas of an airport. Even with more police though there are some situations that are nearly impossible to prevent and it is impractical and impossible for all of us to be walking around with personal law enforcement.
As the investigation moves forwards airport police departments across the country will be evaluating their tactical deployments, personnel and equipment needs to determine if there are things they can do better or if everything that can be done, is being done.
Our thoughts go out to the family of the injured and particularly the family TSA officer Gerardo I. Hernandez.