Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 5, 2013

“LAX shooting: Does anyone care?”

Filed under: Aviation Security,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 5, 2013

(Posted before the reports started coming in of yet another shooting; this time in Paramus, N.J.  Another day, another shooting.)

This essay, by Joel Silberman, appeared Monday on the Los Angeles Times website.  (my emphasis, below)

LAX is not trending on Twitter. Seventy-two hours after a man opened fire on our gateway to the world, there is no discernible outcry for action, little apparent conversation at all. As I write these words, the latest mass shooting is not on the front page of the left-leaning Huffington Post or the right-leaning Drudge Report. It’s not lighting up the social media outlets where average people exchange points of view, or the op-ed pages where our nation’s elite do the same. The president called the head of the TSA to express condolences, but there will be no presidential visit to console the families of the victims. And that’s probably just as well because it would just make everyone complain about the traffic. Unpleasant though it may be to admit, it seems we’ve become uncomfortably numb.

In fairness, even horrifying attacks are relative: One adult dead and many wounded is not equivalent to the mass slaughter of schoolchildren that we witnessed 10 1/2 months ago. That was worse. And reporters for local news outlets — including The Times — have more than proven that they, at least, are not numb, with their extensive coverage of the LAX story.

But the question remains: Who cares? Literally, who? When people care, the atmosphere is like it was after the Boston Marathon bombings or the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Can anyone honestly claim that we are in that kind of atmosphere right now? If a body falls — or five of them fall — in a forest of exhausted indifference, do they make a sound?

Of course, our numbness to this kind of violence is born not only of its proliferation but of a rational recognition that our government is not up to the task of addressing it. When even the most moderate legislation on guns faces a filibuster in the Senate and won’t be brought up for a vote in the House, practical people can justifiably conclude that arguing about the issue further is a futile academic exercise. Even those who don’t follow politics know that there’s no change forthcoming, so they throw up their hands. Meanwhile, conservative leaders who insisted on improvements to the American mental health system as an alternative to gun legislation have not been forthcoming with concrete proposals. And so our country is at an impasse, with its citizens caught in the crossfire.

Inevitably, firearms fundamentalists argue that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is a brilliantly empowering slogan, the kind that could lift us all out of our desensitized malaise. After all, it’s fun to imagine that our personal security and well-being are all within our hands, that powerlessness is a malignant fantasy of the weak. But the events at LAX last Friday showed both the truth and the lie of the “good guy with a gun” promise: Yes, because the gunman’s target, a major airport, is one of the most security-heavy facilities in the country, he was brought down quickly by armed police. Even so, he also proved that no matter how many good guys with guns you have around, when a crazy person can spray off 700 rounds in a minute, he only needs a few seconds to do plenty of damage.

In a way, it’s really a shame that the airport shooter wasn’t Arab or Muslim. If he had been, the incident would have been deemed an act of terrorism, and terrorism warrants a serious response. But he was white instead of Middle Eastern and used a gun instead of a bomb, so now it’s not terrorism; it’s the price of freedom.

If there’s any silver lining in all this — and it is a very slim silver lining — it’s that maybe TSA agents will be given a little bit more respect, at least for a while. Perhaps people will be reminded that as annoying as it may be to have someone rifling through their belongings, TSA agents are, at the end of the day, security employees who are worthy of the esteem that designation implies. A few bad apples may make headlines for bad behavior, but the majority are hardworking people who deserve at least as much deference as the guards who work at government buildings or Staples Center .

Ultimately, the increasing frequency of mass shootings has given us a choice: live in panic and despair, or learn to suck it up and deal. Given the options of jitters or jadedness, the impulse to keep calm and carry on is understandable. There is even a sense of something like relief because there was only one fatality at LAX, a foreboding knowledge that next time we might not be so “lucky.”

The thing is, though, LAX was just one of several mass shootings in recent days . Eventually, inevitably, something will have to wake us from our self-protective stupor. I just fear what that thing might be.

Joel Silberman is a Los Angeles-based writer and the producer of such viral Web videos as “Legitimate Rape” Pharmaceutical Ad (TW) and Kids Do The News . Follow him on Twitter @Wordpeggio .

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8 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 5, 2013 @ 2:58 am

Well I care and wonder what the post event analysts will reveal. Will there be an official investigation? To
be made public?

Comment by Ben

November 5, 2013 @ 7:16 am

To be sure, my thoughts are with the family and friends of Gerardo I. Hernandez. No one deserves what happened to him.

However, I take issue with many of the points raised in this essay, and especially with the portions emphasized by Mr. Bellavita.

I have said before that I think the creation of the TSA was a foolish, expensive, knee-jerk reaction made in fear, and is of highly questionable value when compared to the previous private security screening found in airports pre-2001. A decade of watching has not offered any strong evidence that I should change my mind. For the record: in the 1970s and 80s, when our greatest concern was that some Soviet infiltrator would sneak nuclear bomb parts into the US, we did not resort to this sort vast policing of travel – the “Papers Please” that we now get from every TSA agent used to be a casusal joke made about how Communist Russia required all citizens to provide documents in order to travel. Apparently the joke’s on us.

So (sadly) I’m not shocked that some crazy anti-government lunatic has finally shot up a TSA checkpoint. This is exactly what I’d expect them to pick out as a target. If anything, I’m a bit surprised that it took this long, considering how offensive the process of being inspected by the TSA can be.

As to the details of this article, I’m bothered by the effort that’s been put into trying to trump this up into a national crisis. Agent Hernandez surely did not deserve to find himself at the receiving end of an assault rifle but let’s be clear about a few things:

First, TSA agents are not law enforcement officers. They are not police officers; they are not federal marshals; they are not a member of any of the armed services; they are not, as a part of their employment, trained to carry and deploy weapons. And yet, the author attempts to say that this is a tragedy that requires a response greater than the death of someone in any of those other categories.

Second, it seems fairly apparent to me (but I’m just a civilian onlooker) that this attack falls into the “lone wolf” category – Hard to predict, hard to prevent. I’ll be surprised if anyone turns up anything that we “should” have done to prevent this, other than more mental health care, and less intrusive government screening. You won’t hear that from anyone in Congress, though.

Finally, I am immensely frustrated with the author’s regret that this wasn’t worse, if only so that we’d take it seriously. This is serious – but it’s not more serious than Police Line-of-Duty deaths in Philadelphia, gang violence in Baltimore, or shopkeepers being murdered in NYC. I resent any effort to make it seem otherwise.

Everyone is tripping over themselves to point out how dangerous the world is today, how we need to engage in ever more inane and intrusive prevention measures. but they are wrong. We are safer today than we’ve ever been – any anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.

We don’t need a safer country, we need fewer people who are (like the author of this article) driven by fear.

I’m not optimistic about that happening, though.

-Ben

Comment by john comiskey

November 5, 2013 @ 7:17 am

Mental health issues taken to an extreme “mental health threats” and “mental health intelligence” are not things we like to talk about.

“At-risk mental health vicitms,” broadly described here as persons whose actions demonstrate a physical threat to themselves or others are valid societal concerns.

Establishing a red line for the institutionalization of mental health victims for both their safety and public safety writ large is problematic.

Institutionalization today may mean not incarcerating tomorrow and not having LAX/Paramus/Newtown like headlines.

Mental health “Meta- awareness” might be a start. I have come to adapt the term Meta to many things HLS, Meta-leadership, Meta-cognition, Meta-policy, and most lately Meta-domain awareness -thinking beyond known threats.

I return to my core, Emersonian self-reliance, take care of yourself, take care of your own (immediate family, extended family, local community), and ask for help only when your means to accomplish a task have been legitimately exhausted.

In the immediate case, at-risk mental health victims and their immediate family are the primary responsible parties. Certainly and to varying degrees the victims and their families may/must ask for help. They must, however, take appropriate action whatever that may be when public/safety safety is hazarded.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 5, 2013 @ 8:49 am

Pretty much agree with Ben and John!

Was this in the line-of-duty? If so was this the first for TSA?

Comment by john comiskey

November 5, 2013 @ 8:56 am

Yes, this is a L.O.D. and was TSA’s first.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

November 5, 2013 @ 9:38 am

Sadly, you can add the NJ mall shooting to the list of mentally ill people who have guns and will kill anyone in their path.

Comment by Street Cop

November 5, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

Makes me wonder if that is what “resiliency” looks like. Am I the only one that thought a Redskin was a football team, nothing more and nothing less? Funny what is important to the news cycle……Pink Floyd might be correct…”I have become comfortably numb”.

Comment by Ed Baldini

November 5, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

Of note and/or interest…..neither the LAX or NJ Mall shooter showed ANY interest in the hundreds of potential civilian victims presented to them…..this could be a clear distinction when comparing to terrorism scenerios……would civilian deaths have awakened public interest?

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