Skip to main content

Arming TSA officials not the answer

By Tiffany Hawk, Special to CNN
November 4, 2013 -- Updated 1834 GMT (0234 HKT)
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
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT