LAX Shooting Renews Debate About Armed Officers in U.S. Airports

Death of TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez prompts discussion about having armed officers at airport security screening stations

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Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

TSA agents walk on the departures level a day after a shooting that killed one TSA worker and injured several others at Los Angeles International Airport Nov. 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California

Friday’s fatal shooting of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer at Los Angeles International Airport has renewed the debate about posting armed guards at airport security screening stations. In the wake of the attack, security officials are discussing a variety of options — from arming some TSA employees to keeping armed police officers closer to checkpoints — in an effort to improve airport security.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, armed officers were commonly posted at airport screening stations; but over time, and as budgets tightened, airport police took on more of a patrolling presence. After Friday’s shooting, TSA administrator John Pistole said the agency would review how it works with airport police and discuss overall security with Congress.

Part of that discussion previously centered on how close to screening stations airport police officers need to remain while patrolling terminals and performing routine duties. LAX has roughly 400 police officers who are responsible for security of the airport, while TSA officials have said their primary responsibility is keeping guns and explosives off airplanes.

“Our officers were deployed where they were supposed to be,” LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon told the Wall Street Journal, explaining that the terminal’s police were about 60 seconds behind the shooter when he broke through the checkpoint.

Paul Anthony Ciancia, the alleged shooter, has been charged with two felony counts, including killing a federal employee in the line of duty, which could carry the death penalty. TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez died in the attack. The FBI said Ciancia had a handwritten letter stating he wanted to kill TSA officers and “instill fear in your traitorous minds.” Airport police shot Ciancia four times, including in the mouth, and according to the AP, he remains sedated and under guard at a local hospital.

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