Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 14, 2008

Embrace Common Sense Security at Our Airports

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Clark Kent Ervin on August 14, 2008

~Guest Post~

All too often, the visceral reaction to a story about homeland security is “huh?” The latest example for me is this headline in last week’s USA Today, “TSA weighs gun ban in unsecured areas.”

The gist of the article is that, prompted by the request of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the Transportation Security Administration is pondering whether airports may ban firearms from terminals, parking lots, and other parts of the airport before screening checkpoints. At checkpoints and beyond, firearms, as well as other weapons – knives, bombs, etc. – are, of course, banned. The rationale for that ban, of course, is that firearms can be used to kill masses of people past the checkpoint, including people on board airplanes.

The “huh” factor here comes from two things. First of all, if guns are banned past the checkpoint because they can be used to kill people, doesn’t it go without saying that they should likewise be banned before the checkpoint because they can be used to kill people? In other words, isn’t the point of the present ban to prevent mass killing? If so, why should guns be banned past the checkpoint but not before it?

Second, if there’s no practical difference between the pre-checkpoint area and the post-checkpoint area in terms of the possibility that guns can be used to kill people, what is TSA “weighing?”

Yes, of course, there is the Second Amendment. Under certain circumstances, people may legally carry firearms. However, implicitly, the foregoing sentence means that there are other circumstances under which people legally may not carry firearms. The circumstance that legally permits airports to ban firearms past the checkpoint – people on board airplanes could be killed – is the same circumstance that should make banning firearms anywhere on airport property a no-brainer.

Surely it isn’t the case that the lives of those in airports who are planning to board airplanes are worthier of protection than the lives of those who are at airports for other reasons – to drop off family or friends; to shop or dine at restaurants or shops before checkpoints; or to work in parts of the airport before checkpoints. If not, as I say, TSA’s deliberative process can and should be short.

That is not to say that there wouldn’t be legal challenges. (Remember the judge who sued his dry cleaners for ruining his favorite pants, seeking $65 million in damages?) But that’s what TSA’s lawyers are for. Those lawyers stand a good chance of ultimately prevailing, if the recent upholding of the ban by a federal judge Monday is any indication. In any event, TSA policy makers should take out their “Approved” stamp; firmly affix it to Hartsfield-Jackson’s application; and move on to weighing closer questions.

Clark Kent Ervin is Director of the Homeland Security Initiative at The Aspen Institute. Ervin served as the first Inspector General of the United States Department of Homeland Security from January 2003 to December 2004. Prior to his service at DHS, he served as the Inspector General of the United States Department of State from August 2001 to January 2003.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 15, 2008 @ 11:14 am

I think the fundamental jurisdictional question of federal control of airports, public and private for security purposes needs addressing. Still area of major vulnerability seven (7) years since 9/11. Interesting to me that this has never ever been addressed directly by Congress in its legislative oversight role. Good post!

Comment by Christopher Tingus

August 15, 2008 @ 10:12 pm

I believe that all airports meeting certain criteria as approved by Congress should have a special Fed/Trans/Restrict-Zone (FTRZ) designation where all weapons are banned and only those individuals issued federally approved license would be allowed to carry or be in possession of a weapon superceding any local issued license and anyone found with such a weapon(s) would face serious felony action.

There is no need for anyone to carry a weapon in such a federally designated area.

When are we going to get serious about taking away opportunities from those seeking our demise. If anyone has justification of having any such weapon in his/her possession, thery would be granted a federal license to carry in this FTRZ designated area.

I would also like Congress to designate our bus and train terminals as FTRZ designated areas where anyone with a weapon would face immediate arrest and serious consequences. Just as we have school zones marked, we should do the same as we enter the proximity of such transportation hubs.

Christopher Tingus

Comment by Jonah Czerwinski

August 16, 2008 @ 9:23 am

The vulnerability isn’t just transportation hubs. It is anywhere large amounts of people collect. Why not make every public venue that draws more than, say, 1000 people an FRTZ? I would sure feel safer at the race track that draws over 100,000 people if no guns are allowed. Or at the major city mall that surely draws as many. Moreover, if schools are gun free, why shouldn’t my work place be gun free?

Comment by The Dave

August 20, 2008 @ 12:53 am

I have a better question: Why should guns be banned before passing through security?

There isn’t really any reason to ban guns on either side of security, only on the place, and it just so happens that screening is done at it’s own choke point, rather then right at the gate (and for good reason)

The point of airport security is not to create a gun-free zone once you’re through security, it’s to prevent guns from getting on planes.

So, back to my original question: Why should an airport be gun-free before security?

Sure, there is little “need” to carry guns there, but there is little “need” to carry a gun to the mall, or to have one in your car, or at home either.

And yet the right is there, and for some very good reasons, reasons which are a fairly minor exception to the above, but an extremely important one.

A better question might be: Is there really a problem we’re trying to solve here, or would this just be more laws for the sake of laws?

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