Skip to main content

Arming TSA officials not the answer

By Tiffany Hawk, Special to CNN
updated 1:34 PM EST, Mon November 4, 2013
Transportation Security Administration Officer Gerardo Hernandez, 39, was killed in a shooting at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, November 1. Paul Ciancia, 23, armed with what police say was an assault rifle and carrying materials expressing anti-government sentiment, opened fire at LAX Terminal 3, killing Hernandez before being chased down. Ciancia has been charged with the murder of a federal officer and commission of violence at an international airport. Transportation Security Administration Officer Gerardo Hernandez, 39, was killed in a shooting at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, November 1. Paul Ciancia, 23, armed with what police say was an assault rifle and carrying materials expressing anti-government sentiment, opened fire at LAX Terminal 3, killing Hernandez before being chased down. Ciancia has been charged with the murder of a federal officer and commission of violence at an international airport.
HIDE CAPTION
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
Fatal shooting at Los Angeles airport
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tiffany Hawk: 9/11 left a legacy of security measures by airlines and airports
  • Friday's shooting at LAX raises new security concerns, she says
  • Hawk: Violence in schools, malls and cinemas is more prevalent than terrorism
  • Arming airline workers -- often underpaid and over-stressed -- is a bad idea, she says

Editor's note: Tiffany Hawk is a former flight attendant with United Airlines and Virgin America is the author of "Love Me Anyway," a novel about airline culture.

(CNN) -- We don't know much about the shooting at Los Angeles International Airport just yet, but it has clearly jangled our collective nerves, dredging up the fear and shock and pain of 9/11 -- the wellspring of our modern airport security process -- reminding us that more than a decade later, flying is still a fraught experience.

For those of us who were working for United or American, that day in 2001 changed everything. When we finally got back onboard, our workplace now included air marshals, armed pilots, martial arts lessons, tasers, fortified cockpit doors, and a new focus on vigilance, not warmth and customer service. "Welcome aboard" was less a greeting and more an opportunity to size you up.

So, reports of today's airport shooting raise new fears about weaknesses in this system. Is it possible that the gunman who shot and killed one TSA officer and injured two of his colleagues may have made it through LAX security with a high-powered rifle? (As of this writing, that is not yet clear.)

And is it time to start arming Transportation Security Administration officials?

No way.

Tiffany Hawk
Tiffany Hawk

I can understand the urge to react, to grasp at anything that might protect travelers. I too want air travel to be safe; hell, my husband is a pilot. But arming screeners at checkpoints well away from the airfield wouldn't be just another of the many precautions the airlines have taken to avert large-scale terrorism. It would simply be about protecting people from something that is everywhere in America: gun violence -- yes, at airports, and also at schools, at movie theaters, and malls.

If you're the kind of person who thinks that every teacher and hall monitor and mall cop and cinema usher should be armed, then you'll probably feel safer if we give guns to TSA officers. And maybe flight attendants and customer service reps and baggage handlers. And probably bus drivers and ballpark ticket takers, and hospital staff.

LAX shooting delays flights nationwide

September 11, 2001, still hurts, but most of our public killings have been at the hands of angry or disturbed co-workers, students, neighbors, family members -- not terrorists.

Should TSA officers be armed?

Do you really want to start handing out guns to the people you work with?

Probably not if you work for an airline where people are often underpaid, overworked, sometimes inhumanely exhausted and locked, perennially, in famously contentious relationships with management.

Even before 9/11, it made me nervous that as airline workers, we skipped security entirely, simply hopping off the employee bus and entering a back door, bags and bodies unscreened. I feared that the next air disaster would be caused by a colleague with a bone to pick. Of course, I was wrong, and thankfully employees' bags are now screened, but giving guns to airline and airport workers is still a disquieting idea.

I was never a fan of armed pilots, even in the nightmarish days after 9/11. Another flight attendant might have felt reassured but, when I once walked into the cockpit of a 757 to find a pilot with a gun resting on his lap, I was most decidedly rattled. I hadn't met the guy before and had no reason to distrust him, but even the thought of an accident was enough to make me question my safety (turbulence anyone?).

And a couple of chilling mishaps -- an inadvertent discharge in the cockpit of a US Airways plane and an incident where a JetBlue pilot lost his gun in an airport -- demonstrate the potential dangers of even a best-case-scenario arming of the nation's nearly 50,000 TSA agents.

Chaos, terror unfold inside LAX Terminal 3

Unquestionably, terrorism is a real concern for airlines, but like it or not, as Americans, we have also have to worry just as much about angry neighbors with guns.

To fight our justified fear, some will undoubtedly push for more guns and others for fewer. One thing is for certain -- we will continually be forced to debate this. I only hope that we can find some common ground before the next reminder.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tiffany Hawk.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 12:17 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT