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Airline Security

from Sunni Maravillosa

October 10, 2001

Perhaps you think we're beating up on the airlines and FAA, and their security measures. You're entitled to your opinion, of course, but rather than maintaining a closed mind about the subject, or hiding your head in the sand out of fear due to recent events, please read this essay and think about the points we present. Our primary concern is the safety of peaceable individuals. -- Current airline security measures are not stopping terrorists--that much is obvious. If they were, 911 would never have happened. So, given that, who really believes that more of the same will make a difference? Why do all the rules and regulations fail? Is there something better we can try to make air travel safer?

Air travel is in something of an unusual position compared with other forms of travel. It has a government office--the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA--overseeing it. That means that each private airline company has its own regulations, plus relevant local laws, plus FAA rules and regulations, plus federal laws to consider in their daily operations. The idea was that the FAA would ensure minimum levels of standards for flying, for national security and safety.

With respect to the issues at hand, carrying firearms on jets used to be under the purview of each individual airline. Prior to the advent of skyjackings, it was not uncommon for pilots (many of whom had served in the military) and passengers to have a handgun with them on the flight. (Long guns--shotguns and rifles--are not as easily stowed and have typically been carried in checked baggage.) When the first wave of air terrorism--skyjackers demanding ransom, release of political prisoners, or that a flight be diverted to a different destination--struck, the terrorists took advantage of the ability to carry weapons on board. Those terrorists' goals weren't to kill, except as a last resort; they wanted some specific course of action and took large numbers of individuals, along with a very expensive piece of equipment--the jet--hostage to bring that about. Thus, negotiation and appeasement measures were advised, rather than using force against the thugs. As part of the effort to eliminate skyjackings, firearms were prohibited in the cockpit and cabin.

With this new policy in place, guess who continued to take guns aboard jets? Not the law-abiding public, nor the pilots. Terrorists did, of course--after all, they're going to be breaking lots of other laws; why should one more stop them? And indeed, it did not. Skyjackings began to increase, in part because some had been successful, and in part because the terrorists knew that the passengers wouldn't be armed and able to resist.

And thus began other policies: searches of carry-on bags, security clearances for airline employees, and proof of identity became mandatory. It seemed that with each new technique the terrorists used, more regulation--and burden on the innocent air travelers--was heaped on.

As the tragic events of September 11 showed, today's terrorists are a new breed. They don't want attention, or prisoners returned, or money--they want blood. American blood. As partial payback for the US government's willingness to intervene in most every fight on the global block, we are hated just about everywhere. We are especially hated in many Arab countries, in part for the state policy of supporting Israel, and in part because we're viewed as lawless, impious, ungodly infidels. The terrorists who boarded the four planes made it through every check point, had valid IDs, and were without suspicion through all airport "security".

And what has the effect of all the bureaucracy, the searches, the questions about who packed whose bags, the prohibitions, and the "Your papers, please" been? The American public is increasingly unable to mount a meaningful defense against terrorists in the jets--not to mention the lower-level terrorists who rob and rape and otherwise prey on the flying public, in the cavernous parking garages, vast surface parking lots, and mazelike tunnels that confront the traveler in airport complexes across the country.

No matter what after-the-fact tactics the FAA and airline security people institute, they will fail. There will always be loopholes, there will always be the possibility of human security breaches, and the terrorists will simply exploit any means available to wreak their havoc upon us. Ban guns? They'll sneak them on, or use knives. Ban knives? They'll use one of the many kinds that won't turn up on X-ray or metal detector searches. Or they'll fabricate one--smashing a bottle to create a jagged edge will create a formidable weapon. A pen can be used to stab someone, even fatally. Shoelaces can strangle. Those methods are unpleasant to consider, but they can be used, and the enemy we're facing has shown itself not to be squeamish.

Another "safety measure" that has been quietly put into place is the ability of two midlevel Air Force generals to order fighter jets to fire on and down an "errant airliner" suspected of being skyjacked. That's a truly disturbing thought... an American passenger jet can now be ordered shot out of the sky by its own military. This isn't safety; it's a reactionary measure that is supposed to scare the terrorists, or get them to think twice about trying to take another American jet. But they have already demonstrated that they're willing to die for their cause! How this will dissuade them is beyond my comprehension. Instead, it seems to me to offer the enemy another means of attack--scaring us into shooting our own. How they'd love that.

The American government seems unable to grasp a fundamental problem with all the security measures that they've legislated and ordered: It is impossible to ban everything that someone might use to hurt another person. Safety cannot be legislated into existence.

And there's always the possibility of infiltration. The terrorists of 911 worked years to get their people flight training, and into trusted positions in order to carry out their attacks. It's even easier to get sympathetic individuals placed into jobs as aircraft maintenance people, janitorial crews, or baggage handlers. Or, they can bribe existing employees; those jobs are notorious for being underpaid, boring, and thankless work.

If you think "federalizing" all these jobs will do the trick, think again. These terrorists were willing to work years to get into position to turn American jets into third world cruise missiles; they'll be able to pass whatever security clearances might become needed for the privilege of tossing luggage into the underbelly of a jet. Even the CIA has individuals that are working against America within it, and you know that airline security clearances aren't going to be nearly as strict as CIA clearance. Making all those jobs federal jobs--with all the bureaucracy and red tape that will inevitably follow--will simply add to the costs of flying.

Let's talk about costs. Who do you think pays for all the security features--that don't work--already in place? The flying public. Who do you think will pay for the new ones that are in the works? That's right--the flying public. We will bear these costs, in higher ticket prices.

We also pay in time lost. Time spent standing in lines while nine-year-olds get searched, time spent being searched, probed, and questioned ourselves, time spent obtaining paper tickets and making sure we have them and state-approved ID--all of this is time wasted in our lives. We're being treated as if we're potential criminals, when we're the paying customers! We pay in the negative emotional consequences of being presumed guilty every time we set foot in an airport to board a jet. We pay, and pay, and pay... and never get something that's worth all we pay.

Think of what you could do with the money saved on cheaper airfares that don't have worthless security procedures factored into the price. Think how much more productive you could be without the two-hour minimum check-in time before each domestic flight you take. Think how much happier you'd feel if you didn't dread setting off the security beeper with some innocuous item (on a trip a couple of years ago, I witnessed some packets of fast-food ketchup in a pocket trigger the metal detector) and having some stranger paw through your clothing. Think how much more pleasant your flights could be without all the headaches and hassles of current check-in procedures. Think of the relief of not having to worry about the possibility of a terrorist attack...

That is not an impossible dream. It might seem so, but that's because air security has been stood on its head. Instead of encouraging the flying public to continue to take responsibility for their own security, air security as mandated from above has enfeebled us. Rather than treating us as mature adults, we're treated as children, not to be trusted with toenail clippers or mustache scissors, and as accomplices to terrorists rather than competent allies of the pilot and flight crew. When we pay the steep prices for an airline ticket, and go through all the "safety" checks to board a jet, we want that flight to go where it's supposed to go, and land on time. We want to be safe. But instead of being able to have a hand in our own safety, and by natural extension, the safety of a transportation vehicle we have paid to use, we're put through an ordeal guaranteed to render us all but incapable of protecting ourselves and our interests.

Returning to the policies of just a couple of decades ago would offer many savings, to airline customers, the airlines, and the government. The government wouldn't need to pay for the enforcement of useless FAA-mandated regulations any longer, and neither would the airlines. The savings could be invested into genuine security tactics that would benefit the airlines and their customers. (Examples include better training in spotting potential bombs, more secure cockpits, and defensive firearms courses.) The flying customers wouldn't pay the associated costs, nor would they pay in time or emotional strain.

Perhaps you think I'm painting an overly optimistic picture of the benefits of armed civilians on flights. Let me ask you: do you know of something that might work better, and be cheaper? That's my bottom line: I want to fly safely, I want to get where I'm going, and I want to pay the minimum necessary to accomplish that. Allowing armed individuals on commercial flights is the best way I know of to accomplish that. There's no other weapon that is as powerful in a person's hands as a gun--that's why police officers and other law enforcement officials carry them.

If we're going to be serious about making our airlines safe from terrorists, we need the best tools available. I--along with many others who've written on this topic (see our information page for just some of these articles)--think that the best solution is armed civilians. If you have an option that you think will top it, please share it with us.

The war is upon us. You may or may not agree with the course of action this country is taking, but the fact is that we're at war with an enemy that wants our soil to run red with American blood. That enemy has demonstrated patience, cunning, perseverance, and creativity in its strikes thus far. There will be more. If we are to win this war, every capable individual needs to be able to fight. Many of us have trained and practiced with firearms in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We can extend that beyond our property lines. We can help protect others, and our public places, in the proud tradition of Lexington Green. Let Freedom Fight!

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