Before last Friday, Transportation Security Administration officers were little more than agents of inconvenience to the traveling public — brigades of blue-shirted guards demanding your belt and shoes, and then that shampoo bottle you left in your suitcase.
It’s early to draw big conclusions about the shooting at Los Angeles International Airport. But a raft of ideas already is floating around. One is to introduce nearly 50,000 more guns into the country’s airports by arming every TSA officer. Unless a massive amount of time and money goes into that effort, it could well add more danger than it subtracts. The president of the union representing TSA officers has called for giving them arrest powers. But it’s not clear how that would make anyone safer from deranged gunmen. The TSA could push to redesign security checkpoints or to post armed officers at specific locations near screening zones. These measures are worth thinking about, but they could also be costly relative to the security benefits.
The truth is that there will always be various risks at these checkpoints. The TSA officers’ job is to filter out the biggest dangers; in order to create a controlled airport environment on the other side, the checkpoints have to be exposed to the outside world and are filled with mobs of people. And they are conspicuous symbols of a security system that, though it is necessary, some Americans detest.
That is only one of the reasons why Americans should appreciate, not disrespect, TSA officers. Most officers will never have to face a hostile shooter. But all of them must deal with the mundane, everyday toil of enforcing all the rules on an often impatient public.