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.