It's a question that comes up often after high-profile shootings such as the one at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday: Who besides police officers should carry guns in the event that a shooter needs to be subdued before law enforcement can respond?
The union representing Transportation Security Administration officers -- one of whom was killed by the alleged LAX shooter who reportedly targeted TSA personnel -- believes that some of its agents should carry guns, even though the purpose of those agents is to screen passengers and prevent dangerous contraband (guns, explosives and so forth) from getting past checkpoints and onto airplanes. Those uniformed employees wearing badges may give travelers the impression that they are federal law enforcement officers, but LAX actually has its own police agency to patrol the airport.
But the union's call isn't without precedent. Following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last year -- in which 26 people, including 20 children, were killed -- the National Rifle Assn. infamously called for armed officers to patrol schools, even though the public outcry at the time was over the proliferation of firearms in a society that would allow someone like a troubled 20-year-old to get his hands on a rifle and more than 100 rounds of ammo.
In 2007, one of the points made by gun-rights advocates after the killing of 32 people in the Virginia Tech massacre was that the campus was a gun-free zone, meaning that students were effectively prohibited from defending themselves.
So how are most readers reacting this time? So far, in response to Tuesday's Times article, almost all are cold to the idea that some TSA agents should carry guns. (I should note that one reader whose letter was printed in Tuesday's paper in response to an earlier article proposed an idea similar to the TSA union's.)
Here are some of those readers' letters.
Marc Scott of Los Angeles says only so many people should be armed:
"It is very sad that a TSA agent was murdered. But arming some agents would be a big mistake. Now there will be thousands of more guns out there with people that aren't properly trained.
"Children have been killed in schools, people have been killed in malls, and people are killed in drive-bys. All are very unfortunate events, but should we arm all of them too?"
Los Angeles resident Les Hartzman envisions an NRA utopia:
"It is no surprise to hear that there is talk about arming TSA agents. What could possibly go wrong?
"But really if we extend their thinking and that of the NRA, shouldn't we just move to the ultimate solution? Let the passengers carry guns. Someone takes aim in the terminal, and some good guy in line with a gun will just take out the shooter. Passengers would just drop their guns in the bins with their shoes so they could still be screened for knives and explosives, but then they could pick them up again on the other side.
"What could possibly go wrong?"
David Strauss of Arcadia notes that in a free society, tragedy sometimes happens:
"The answer to reducing the likelihood of another airport shooting is -- there is no answer.
"When there is a situation that involves large numbers of people moving swiftly through a confined space -- airports -- and that same population happens to come from a nation armed to the teeth, the statistical probability that one might be a nut is significant. The probability of deterring each and every possible shooter is extremely low.
"Like it or not, tragic events like the LAX shooting are the price we pay for the freedom to bear arms."