The worst fears of anyone who has worked at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) became reality last week when Transportation Security Officer (TSO) Gerardo Hernandez was gunned down at the Los Angeles International Airport. But it is worse than that. He was targeted simply because he was a TSO.

Even the mildest of TSA critics forgets sometimes that the TSO represents not only our last, but also our most vulnerable, line of defense against attacks on the aviation system. As heart-wrenching as Mr. Hernandez’s death is, and as necessary as a review of security procedures at LAX is, this incident was not a terrorist attack but an act of a mentally ill person. It was an attack on the most public faces of our efforts to protect the homeland.

Therefore, before the collective policy-making community proposes additional changes or federal mandates, they should lead the effort to change the focus and tenor by which they level criticism against TSA. Too often, the aspersions of TSA by elected officials, “security experts,” late-night comedians, and the media poison the public’s perception of TSA’s frontline men and woman. This trickles down to the checkpoint when passengers vocalize disdain for removing their shoes and laptops or packing shampoo in plastic baggies to TSOs. Worse, the dispersions create an atmosphere of disrespect.

Words have consequences. Irrational, violent minds – as we continue to experience with prevalence of mass shooting events – focus their violent outbursts against the most visible, accessible representations of their rage. We should all keep that in mind when speaking out against TSA policies and procedures.

Jeff Sural serves as counsel in the Legislative & Public Policy Group at Alston & Bird, LLP. He will focus his practice on homeland security and transportation matters on Capitol Hill and in federal government agencies. Read More