I received an email the other day regarding an internal debate within the airport industry. The topic is whether airport police officers should openly carry long guns in public areas. Let’s just get right to then point where I’m at on this issue: yes, please.

First, lets define what a long gun is. We’re talking about assault rifles, like AR-15’s. You know the type – the same kinds of guns active shooters are already using at schools, malls and occasionally, airports.

The argument for police openly carrying a long gun is the deterrent to potential attackers and allows police to meet the threat with the same or greater level of force with which they are being challenged. You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight and you don’t bring a pistol to an assault weapons battle. The counter-argument is that the heavily armed police officers give the impression that the airport is not a safe place, it degrades the passenger experience, and makes it look like an military garrison (or something to that effect). Maybe some others can give their arguments as to why police shouldn’t be publicly carrying long arms, but since I’m on the other side of this issue, I can’t really articulate them so I’m interested to hear your feedback.

Police need to respond with at least the level of force being used against them and the public. As far as arguing that police openly carrying makes people feel the airport is unsafe, well, that ship has sailed. If you haven’t been paying attention, virtually anyplace is unsafe. We live in a dangerous time where an active shooter can occur anywhere, anytime. If it occurs at a commercial service airport, you at least have police on site so the response times are usually faster than in the community. If they are going to be there, I’d prefer they be properly armed and up to the task.

Several airports, of various sizes, already have police openly carrying long guns, including Boston/Logan International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. LAX has experienced two active shooter incidents since 2001, and Boston/Logan deployed their police with long guns shortly after 9/11 as a deterrence and quick response force. The Department of Homeland Security has also deployed long-gun armed police to various airports for the past several years to supplement airport law enforcement personnel. I’m also aware of other airports that have created “hard points” where police can stow long guns and other materials, (such as a ammunition and advanced first aid supplies) necessary to respond to an active shooter. Some airports have installed Kevlar shielding in certain places of the terminal building to provide cover for police personnel. I do not want to reveal which airports have implemented these additional measures because I don’t want to give potential active shooters any help.

Some people make the argument that if there is an active shooter and police are openly carrying long guns, they will be the first to be targeted. However, in the vast majority of active shootings, the shooter doesn’t walk into a police station. They’d prefer someplace where people aren’t going to shoot back. That’s the reason they hit soft targets such as public places where there are few police, or lightly armed police officers.

Let’s quit fooling ourselves. We live in a dangerous society. Active shootings occur in this country every few days. We need to be prepared. We need to bring a long gun to a long gun fight. To paraphrase a famous Patrick Swayze line in the movie Point Break: we need to project strength to avoid conflict.

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