LAX shooting underlines security vulnerabilities

Number of guns discovered in airports rising, TSA figures show

(CNN) — A deadly shooting at a checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport emphasizes airport security vulnerabilities, according to analysts and a union chief.

A gunman opened fire on Friday at a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at LAX, killing a TSA officer. The suspect was eventually shot and taken into custody, police said.

The slain officer was the first TSA employee killed in the line of duty, according to J. David Cox Sr, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents many TSA workers.

The TSA’s checkpoint officers are not law enforcement and are not armed.

While Friday’s tragedy was a first, “assaults of officers occur on a daily basis,” said Cox, in a telephone conference call.

Asked what could be done to improve security at the airport, Cox said he would like “our officers to be able to make arrests. That would be a big improvement if they had arrest power.” Instead, they have to turn to local law enforcement when assaulted.

Even with the most highly trained TSA officers, some incidents can’t be prevented, said Richard Bloom, director of terrorism, intelligence and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

If security officials choose to focus on terrorism in a post-9/11 world, “other threats to security may not be attended to as much as they should be,” he said. Bloom suggested that training and better pay would go a long way in developing more sophisticated security.

“Are they paid as much as they should be, trained appropriately and recognized and rewarded for doing a good job?” he asked. “Do you want a highly paid security and intelligence officer or a rent-a-cop?”

American airports are not prepared for violence on the ground, said Rafi Ron, president of Virginia-based New Age Security Solutions. Most of the measures taken since 9/11 are aimed at protecting aircraft from attack.

“In the United States, we don’t have vehicle checkpoints and we don’t have people watching who comes into the terminals and the presence of armed personnel is very, very thin,” said Ron, a former head of security of Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel.

Vehicles driving into Ben-Gurion Airport must clear a vehicle checkpoint, and there are security personnel at all terminal entrances, he said. “It would be almost impossible to walk into the terminal with a gun. If he started shooting, he would probably be dead in a matter of seconds because of the heavy presence of security personnel.”

The gunman on Friday approached a checkpoint at Terminal 3 at 9:20 a.m. and began shooting at the TSA employee, according to an ex-LAPD officer who happened to be at the scene.

The shooting was not the first at the airport. In 2002, an Egyptian national killed two people and wounded four others at the ticket counter of Israel’s El Al Airlines before a security guard shot and killed him.

Despite these violent incidents, unauthorized guns at the airport are often discovered in passenger carry-on bags as they pass through checkpoints.

The TSA screens about 1.8 million passengers every day. The total number of guns seized by the TSA at airports around the country has been on the rise since 2007. The agency seized 1,556 guns in 2012, nearly double the 803 guns confiscated in 2007, according to agency figures.

In 2013, the agency seized 1,343 guns through the end of September, 13 of which were confiscated at LAX. The Los Angeles airport is the sixth busiest in the world based on total passengers (63.7 million in 2012), according to Airports Council International.

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