Hamilton Legal: TSA Concers

Sara Sirota

Since its inception in 2001, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has not lost a single officer; that is, until a fatal shooting at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on November 1. Anthony Ciancia, 23, allegedly entered Terminal 3, where he used a semi-automatic rifle to shoot innocent citizens. Six people were injured, along with 39-year-old Gerardo Hernandez, the TSA officer who lost his life.

In light of this attack, it is the responsibility of the TSA to restore faith in the American citizens who may be questioning its effectiveness at preventing violence in major airports. After 9/11, armed officers were posted at security-screening stations. However, with growing budgetary issues, these postings were dismissed. In fact, about a year before the LAX shooting, the head of the local airport-police union made a request to maintain the officers at the stations, but it was disregarded.

In order to ensure the TSA’s ability to maintain security, armed officers must be stationed at the

security-screening stations once again. Instead of permitting these armed officers to be subjected to the possibility of removal, lawmakers must create new laws to mandate their presence.  After 9/11, President Bush signed into law the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law gun control legislation that would be “the toughest in the United States.” It is U.S. lawmaking style that after a fatal incident occurs, politicians respond by creating law to ensure such horrible attacks never occur again. Thus, lawmakers must follow suit in response to the November 1 events.

What should such a law include? The head of the union that represents about 45,000 airport screeners of the TSA suggested the agency should give weapons to certain employees. However, these employees may not know how to properly respond to attacks like the one on November 1. Trained officials must be the ones stationed at security-screening stations.

Many have placed pressure on the TSA to mandate the presence of these trained officials. In 2012,Marshall McClain, president of the approximately 400-member police union at LAX, and Paul Nunziato, president of the 1500-member airport-police union at four airports in New York and New Jersey, requested the TSA to require armed officers “within 300 feet of the passenger screening area.” However, the TSA rejected this suggestion. While the TSA did not give a reason for this rejection, officials in the past have emphasized that their responsibility involves ensuring violence does not occur on the airplane, as opposed to on the ground. So now we must consider, is the responsibility of preventing attacks in airports, such as the one that occurred on November 1, in the hands of the TSA or the local airport police?

According to the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, the TSA Under Secretary must “develop policies, strategies and plans for dealing with threats to transportation security.” My initial reaction to this statement is that ground security is different from transportation security, so new laws must increase pressure on the local airport police as opposed to the TSA. However, ground security and transportation security are inevitably interrelated. Threats to TSA officers on the ground could jeopardize their ability to ensure harmful weapons do not make their way onto aircrafts. Thus, any new laws that Congress may propose must include a joint effort between the TSA and local airport police. Airport security has been largely successful since the devastating attacks that shocked the nation on 9/11. In order to maintain its status as a beacon of efforts to ensure the airport safety, the U.S. government must look to creating new security laws.

Contact Sara Sirota at [email protected]