19 March 2013

TSA, Cowards in Congress, and My Little Pocketknife

The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) seizes 2000+ pocketknives per day at airports.

This may indicate that, 9/11 notwithstanding, normal Americans do not regard the Swiss Army knife as an obviously deadly weapon.

Because doing the paperwork for each seizure is inconvenient – for the TSA – the government has proposed a rule change which permits airline passengers to carry pocketknives with blades up to 2.36 inches long. We might want a rule change based on the fact that “government” realizes that the pocketknife ban is idiotic rather than one based on their own convenience, but we should take what we can get.

[Incidentally, “government” is in quotes because the government is supposed to be us.  Sadly, those who work for us just don’t get that.]

But wait! No good deed and no bit of good reasoning ever goes unchallenged. Congress wants answers! Why does the TSA want to endanger innocents by tolerating Boy Scout knives? Enquiring (if infantile) minds want to know.

In a congressional hearing, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee borrowed a colleague’s pocketknife for a demonstration. She pretended to stab him. She then solemnly pronounced, “You need to stop this now! These cause bleeding. These cause injury and these can cause terrible tragedy.”

(Apparently, it was OK for a Member of Congress to have a knife in his pocket.  After all, they’re, they’re, well, they’re Government.)

It’s hard to find a theme for this little collection of thoughts. That’s because there’s a whole rainbow of really silly hysteria shining through the Congressional prism.

The best argument against the garden-variety pocketknife on an aircraft is not very good. The 9/11 hijackers used “box cutters” - knives with utility blades – to take over aircraft and kill crew members. This seems to prove the hypothesis that knives are sharp and dangerous.

Okay, it proves they’re sharp, but we already knew that.

It does not prove that there is a greater danger from pocketknives on an aircraft than there is, for example, from the guy standing next to you in Walmart.

9/11 took place in a totally complacent society. Because no one should seek violence, it was (still is) ingrained in us to avoid violence even when violence is the better choice. Normally, we operate under “rules of engagement” that say if you agree with the aggressor, the bad guy will take what he wants, leaves and everyone will come out alive and healthy.

The terrorist hijacking presented a real steep learning curve. Passengers on only one of the four hijacked aircraft, Flight 93, had time to work out that the rules of engagement had changed. By then, the terrorists had taken over the flight deck and flight controls. Still, violent action by citizens with guts prevented that aircraft from being used as a guided missile.

So – what if you try today to take over an aircraft with a pocketknife? Can you kill the person next to you? Most likely. You can do the same thing to the guy next to you at Walmart. In fact, you have a better chance of killing more people and getting away at Walmart – that’s a much less dense environment and victims have much more room to retreat which gives them less incentive to attack.

Out of 100 passengers on an aircraft, 20 or 30 will be willing to meet violence with violence.  With a little bit of padding and overwhelming numbers, good guy citizens will prevail over someone wielding a knife or even two or three guys wielding knives.  The bad guys will not be taking over the airplane.  It makes much more sense to take away knives at Walmart.  For that matter, that kitchen knife display at Walmart is one lethal murder scene waiting to happen.  Well, wouldn’t Congress think so?

Since 9/11, there have been a number of instances of violent passengers - would-be bombers, just plain crazies - acting up on airplanes and being quickly subdued by fellow passengers.   Perhaps citizens in this new decade generally are more willing to step up to the plate against bad guys. Or, perhaps, stories of citizens can confronting criminals rather than running from them are getting a little more attention these days.

The suggestion that we should be afraid of people carrying pocketknives is one of stunning cowardice. The notion that government should regulate such things is a presumptuousness which old King George III would have recoiled at.   And yet, we are supposed to take seriously public officials who tell us to whimper like little girls because this guy is a pocketknife or that guy has not been to anger management.

I remember when I began to carry a pocketknife. I was six years old. It was a small white knife with a blade about an inch and a half long. That was a really big deal to me. It meant that my dad trusted me to be responsible. It meant that I could start carrying the same sort of tool as my older brothers and my grandfathers and every other older guy I knew.

These were – and are – tools. Remember man, the toolmaker?  I’ve carried a knife in my pocket constantly since with the sole exceptions of places where irrational paternalism prevails or those few places where leaving it in the car makes sense (such as jails.)

So far as the TSA proposal is concerned, we should not be groveling and thanking our government masters because they may let us carry knives now. We should be asking, how dare this paternalistic, cowardly collection of bureaucratic wimps and congressional dilettantes presume to bar We the People from carrying commonplace tools in the first place.

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