The union that represents Transportation Security Administration workers is pushing for some agents to be armed following a recent series of attacks at airports.
American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox said airport security workers need to be protected by armed officers after a machete-wielding man attacked two TSA workers at New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport on March 20.
“For years, AFGE has advocated for a new law enforcement unit within TSA, specially trained and armed to respond to such attacks, and for other safety measures at screening checkpoints,” Cox said in a statement dated March 21.
“We applaud the response of law enforcement officers who ended [Friday’s] attack in New Orleans, but many other airports are not prepared to respond as quickly or as effectively,” he continued.
Police officers identified the New Orleans attacker as 63-year-old taxi driver Richard White, who used wasp spray on a TSA agent, then produced a machete and cut another agent. A police officer shot him shortly after. White later died at a New Orleans hospital.
The union made a similar call for arming some TSA officers in 2013 after a fatal shooting at Los Angeles International Airport.
Cox said this week the New Orleans and Los Angeles incidents were too similar to ignore.
“The security of TSOs [transportation security officers] and the flying public at checkpoints is a real concern,” the union tweeted on Monday. We can't just keep repeating the same incident over [and] over.”
Critics have argued that TSA agents should not be armed because they are not licensed police officers.
The TSA has long sparked controversy, with critics accusing agency workers of violating airline passengers' privacy rights with their security techniques, such as pat-downs.
Cox said TSA workers get a bad rap from airline passengers who are angry about security requirements that have been put in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“TSOs go to work every day to keep our nation safe from violent individuals who look to inflict harm on the flying public,” he said. “All too often, TSOs become the targets of violence themselves, both verbal and physical.”
He added that the recent trend of TSA workers being targeted by attackers needed to be addressed.
“As we learned in Los Angeles, and now in New Orleans, TSOs and the passengers they protect need greater law enforcement support at the checkpoint and other key locations,” he said. “Only then can we hope to prevent another tragedy, or stop it before people are injured.”