On Friday, airports around the nation halted operations at 9:20AM PST to observe a moment of silence in honor of Gerardo Hernandez, the 39-year-old Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer killed at the same time on November 1st by a gunman at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). A public memorial service for Hernandez, a married father of two, will be conducted today at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
Hernandez was working at LAX on November 1st when 23-year-old Paul Ciancia walked into the airport wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a Smith & Wesson .223-caliber M&P-15 assault rifle, five loaded magazines, and additional ammunition. He executed Hernandez in Terminal 3 of the airport, shooting him at point blank range and then returning to finish the job after noticing Hernandez squirming on the ground. Ciancia then walked through the airport's screening area, cursing at TSA agents and asking terrified civilians, "Are you TSA?" If they responded no, he kept moving. In a rampage that lasted approximately ten minutes, Ciancia wounded two additional TSA agents and one bystander. He was finally brought down when officers shot him in the head and leg.
By now, it's clear to most Americans that dangerous, suicidal individuals like Ciancia have ready access to military-style firepower because of the lobbying of groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA). They might not be aware, however, that the pro-gun movement is also equally responsible for disseminating violent, anti-government rhetoric, much of it aimed at the TSA specifically.
The NRA didn't wait long after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 to begin attacking the TSA. In a February 2002 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre commented on airport security measures, saying:
You see red-faced, teary-eyed 15-year-old girls enduring security wands orbiting their breasts while electronic squeals detect the metal in their underwire bras ... I guess it's okay to wand-rape someone's daughter in public ... If anyone deserves a little extra scrutiny after September 11th, it ought to be a few million illegal aliens. And we shouldn't have to x-ray, frisk and humiliate honest Americans to justify it!
When TSA subjected a girl carrying a firearm-shaped purse to extra questioning, then-NRA president David Keene responded in a February 2012 column, stating, "We shouldn't be surprised that security personnel who see nothing wrong with humiliating 85-year-old women at our nation's airports might see a teenage girl sporting a purse with a firearm motif as a potential danger."
The NRA, of course, has also taken the lead in advancing the twisted idea that the Second Amendment protects to the rights of individuals to go to war with their own government. If anything, this rhetoric has grown more intense over time. NRA board member Ted Nugent earned himself a visit from the Secret Service after threatening President Obama and Democrats at the NRA's annual meeting in 2012. And conspiracy theorist/radio host Glenn Beck, the keynote speaker at this year's NRA annual convention in Houston, framed his entire speech around the idea of violently confronting the American government, telling those in attendance:
The freedom of all mankind, make no mistake, is at stake ... Our liberty, our way of life, is being legislated out of existence. Our rights are being diminished by a ruling class of powerful elites. They're growing out of control. We are in a precarious situation. We are. The hour grows late. We have a government that is now run by radical revolutionaries ... They know if you lose the Second Amendment you certainly lose the First and the Fourth and the Fifth, the right to a grand jury, and the 10th and the 14th and the 19th... They feel they must regulate us until we comply. I will not comply ... The Second Amendment was written because of our natural rights. And we have the responsibility to throw off the chains of tyranny.
Pro-gun bloggers have follow the NRA's lead and directed their own attacks at government agents, including the TSA. Robert Farago, a blogger at "The Truth About Guns," called TSA agents "blue shirted goons" after Nugent's wife was arrested for illegally carrying a gun into a terminal at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in August.
Mike Vanderboegh, the former Alabama militia leader and Fox News commentator who made national headlines after calling for the offices of Democratic Members of Congress to be vandalized during consideration of the Affordable Care Act, referred to TSA agents on his blog as "nanny state fascist perverts." Pro-gun activist Andrew Johnston chose a similar slur, describing TSA agents as "filthy perverts." And so on...
It's not rocket science. When you direct this level of hatred at TSA agents, describing them as perverted rapists who take pleasure in humiliating women, while simultaneously instructing people that they have an individual right to resolve such "thuggery" with force of arms, you're going to have unstable individuals like Paul Ciancia who take this advice to heart and kill good people.
Good people like Gerardo Hernadez.