Local reaction: debate to arm TSA agents - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Local reaction: debate to arm TSA agents

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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -

Asking the government to spend a lot of extra money and possibly adding an extra intimidation factor to a screening process that already has many travelers complaining that they feel bullied.   Those are points that the Columbus Airport director, Richard Howell, said the TSA will consider in its decision to arm its agents.  

The gunman who opened fire at LAX is thought to have been targeting the officers specifically and not the passengers, but the attention this incident created has some people asking why the people in charge of keeping guns off planes don't have guns themselves.

"Generally if they find a weapon or something like that in a bag, they'll notify an officer to respond to the checkpoint," said Howell. 

In the current system, it's up to the airport to hire its own officers and they are the only people in the building with guns. It's a requirement for these officers to be within three to five minutes from the checkpoint at all times. After September 11, the TSA originally planned to have armed guards as part of their staff, but they decided against it.  

"I think at one point in time, the agency woke up- They had 60,000 screeners and they had no money to hire law enforcement officers.   So they put that level of responsibility on the airports.   That's why I have a response time requirement to the checkpoint," said Howell.  

The director said there's another concern about arming current agents without boosting their qualifications significantly.  

"We get a lot of complaints about our officers now just by the way they treat people.   And if you arm them up, what kind of attitude will that bring, with the idea of them being armed." 

Passengers at the airport Monday said they don't think more armed guards will make a difference.

"I feel like no matter how much security there is, something is going to happen one way or another," said Kayla Haas, who was flying to Minneapolis.  

"Anybody could come on the street and do the same thing.   So it's not necessarily the airport, it's our world," said Patricia Batty of Phenix City.  

Director Howell said the question that federal decision-makers will need to ask themselves is whether making these changes would significantly deter a similar shooting incident from happening in the future. This all comes at a time when the TSA was in talks to cut back their staff even further.  We're likely to see a lot more discussion before that can be answered.

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