Stoffa: New Transportation Security Administration allotments hardly a change

Gabriel Stoffa

The banning of almost everything under the sun in the wake of 9/11 was overdone; hardly a person in the country will disagree with that.

On March 5, 2013, an announcement came down the wire with the understanding some items were to be released from the forbidden zone as of April 25: some knives, novelty bats, lacrosse sticks, pool cues, up to two golf clubs, hockey sticks and ski poles.

Suddenly it appeared as if the overwhelming fear from 9/11 had finally begun, slowly, to return to a degree of rational safety and preparation, rather than remain in a hyper-sensitive state of tension.

The confiscation of so many Swiss Army knives and the like would have made MacGyver’s head spin over the years. But finally, we can carry on various degrees of useful tools that fit in our pocket.

The catch is that not all knives are allowed: blade must be 6 cm length or less with 1/2 inch width or less; blade cannot lock or be fixed; knife does not have molded grip.

Such tiny blades are, I can only assume, allowed because they seem manageable. A reasonable, if slightly paranoid, assessment.

The non-locking or fixed stipulations have me wondering a bit more, as locking or fixed barely decreases the ability for a person to commit violence with a knife if they are semi-proficient with a knife.

Administrator John Pistole of the Transportation Security Administration had a reasonable argument for the size, fixed and locking blade restrictions: 

“Experts in martial arts and close-quarters combat talked passionately about some of these smaller (knives), even though they’re smaller than 6 centimeters. Some of these knives are primarily weapons and do not serve the similar purpose as what you would call a small pocketknife. Some are for hunters, for skinning; some are simply for weapons. And so those will still remain on the prohibited items list.”

Molded grip is sort of wacky, as a “molded grip” hardly makes a knife more deadly. Based on photos of still-banned knives, it appears the administration was trying to avoid finger grips or other means that make a knife more difficult to be taken from a would-be hijacker; or make a knife appear “scarier.” 

I can guarantee oodles of folks are going to have their knives confiscated, likely again, due to the revised restrictions, because the restrictions still don’t make a terrible lot of sense; more, further paranoia.

Many people out there believe the planes on 9/11 were taken over with knives and box cutters. We don’t actually know that, since none of the three cockpit voice recorders survived the crashes.

We do have a fairly reasonable belief of the use of blades of some sort due to reports from the planes: the Pentagon plane, American Flight 77, claimed hijackers had knives and box cutters; American Flight 11 had reports of a stabbing; while United Flight 93 reported knives.

Calls from the flights had passengers also claiming chemical sprays to gunshots to stabbings to bomb threats allowed for the hijackers to take control, but blades seem to be the big target.

Nevertheless, bans were placed on everything that could feasibly be used for any of those various methods for violent takeover of a plane.

Now we are seeing some leniency — baby steps are still steps — because it has been recognized that the 9/11 incident was more of a fault of poor communication between government agencies and airlines than security measures.

But the revisions are being challenged, despite the slim percentage of threat that allowing such items poses to future hijackings. Groups representing federal air marshals and flight attendants are calling for the administration to reconsider the revisions.

“Continued prohibition of these items is an integral layer in making our aviation system secure and must remain in place,” the Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions said in a statement.

That claim is, of course, not entirely logical given the “integral” description, if you take into consideration the changes and advancements and awareness of government agencies, airlines, staff, security and even passengers as to how to deal with potential threats.

But if you still believe everyone has their pants around their ankles when it comes to aviation safety, then sure, continued prohibition of the newly-released items is an integral layer in a secure aviation system.

When you look at it, just to argue, all the released items are potential weapons that can endanger staff and passengers. Ski poles and hockey sticks have been used as murder weapons. If you unfold all the pieces on a Swiss Army knife, you can do some very odd damage.

But we cannot think of everything as being a deadly weapon if we want to be reasonable. Some items need to come off the restricted list because the initial bannings were heavy-handed.

The released items should be treated as a way of the administration testing the waters. Though the current unrestrictions don’t change much about packing your bags — particularly the two golf clubs, as I would love to know how that number was determined — the changes should be embraced so further deregulation can occur.

In the interim, remember that the knife you want to bring with you is unlikely to be allowed now, no matter what you hear. Remember that staff on airlines and security are trying to help, but many still feel unsafe or hesitant concerning certain items.

The fear still grips many, as we near the 12-year mark since 9/11 made all of America more given to the grip of Big Brother-like tactics.

But that fear abatement needs to accelerate more quickly into a state of cautious preparation, so the terrible profiling by some of our security, and the scare tactics of those that would harm us, do not gain further influence.


Gabriel Stoffa is a graduate student in political science from Ottumwa, Iowa.