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Oct 29 2011

Security theatre exposed.

You know all that screening, profiling and backscatter nudie x-rays you have to go through to get from point A to point B via plane, all “for your safety”? It’s a sham. It’s security theatre. It’s not to make you safer, it’s to make you think you’re safer. Know how I know?

A loaded and undeclared .38-caliber handgun tumbled from a checked bag at Los Angeles International Airport Sunday, prompting police to detain the gun owner temporarily.

A luggage ramp crew discovered the weapon after it fell from an unzipped compartment in a duffel bag they were loading onto Alaska Airlines Flight 563, according to police and the airlines. [...] The owner of the gun, whose name has not been released, was questioned at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific station and was allowed to board a later flight to Portland. The gun was turned over to Los Angeles police, the sources said.
[...]
The traveler told authorities he had flown out of Portland with the same bag, with the gun inside, three days earlier. It was not clear whether he had notified the airline about the gun that time.

So the loaded gun made it through two security screens before it was discovered accidentally, when it fell out of the bag in question. And it was loaded at the time. Which means it could have easily gone off in the cargo hold or, say, when it fell out of the bag. Either these screeners are personally incompetent and incapable of operating the machinery, or the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment put into place to “secure” these airports are simply worthless makework projects. And yet you’ll have to grit your teeth and submit yourselves to these practices, because to object means to end up on a watch list and get hounded for the rest of your days.

Read more at the LA Times.

32 comments

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  1. 1
    Nomen Nescio

    *sigh*. no, just because it was loaded does NOT mean it could have “easily” gone off here or there or anywhere.

    let’s assume the report of it being a .38-caliber are correct. (this assumption is not necessarily safe, since a lot of reporters know exactly squat about firearms.) that would likely make it a revolver, and probably not very old, since .38 special is still a very popular caliber for currently manufactured revolvers, which are cheap and reliable weapons.

    such a firearm goes off when the trigger on it is pulled fully back, and not otherwise. modern firearms — by which i mean ones produced within the last, say, fifty years or so — are drop safe; designed and built so that dropping them on the floor cannot and will not set them off. (never try to catch a loaded gun if it falls. your grabbing fingers are much more likely to accidentally trigger a round than the fall is.)

    unless there was something else in the bag with it that might have got inside the trigger guard (unlikely, i’d guesstimate) and both items jostled around enough to overcome the usually heavy spring on your average double action revolver (it has to be fairly heavy, by the way, since on a DA action it’s the same spring that powers the hammer and fires the cartridge) then that weapon was the least safe in the moment someone picked it up off the floor; that’s when a finger was likely closest to the trigger.

    of course, reports of the weapon details could be wrong. if it were, for instance, a semiautomatic pistol instead, then it would likely have two or more other, additional safeties, on top of the trigger guard and designed-in drop safety.

    incidentally, did you know it is perfectly legal to fly with firearms and ammunition in the same box, in checked luggage? you do have to declare them at check-in, and they’re subject to some extra rules and regs, but the passenger here could quite legally have carried their pistol along had they only gone through a bit more red tape at check-in. their man fault was losing track of where their gun was — which is a serious oversight, i’ll grant — but they did not endanger the aircraft.

    — signed, your friendly blog-neighborhood token gun nut.

  2. 2
    Michael Fisher

    The TSA screens all baggage for explosives & it did do that in this case. I think they use dogs & a ‘puffer’ machine ~ both of which can detect trace amounts of chemicals associated with drugs or explosives. These puffer machines can’t ‘see’ inside the baggage.

    In addition carry-on luggage is put through an x-ray or mri-style machine & an operator checks for suspicious shapes on a monitor. In the early days, the TSA scanned all luggage this way, but it proved to be a logistical nightmare.

    At the moment there is nothing to stop a bomb being put on a plane in the hold. I repeat nothing. A professionally made terrorist bomb does not give off traces. The airlines & security services have produced these rather clever bomb resistant pods that are used to contain the checked luggage ~ I don’t think these pods are used on the smaller planes though.

  3. 3
    Jason Thibeault

    Nomen Nescio @1: First, that is an awesome handle.

    Second, do you agree that the loaded .38 could have more easily gone off by being there, than by not being there?

    Third, since you’re the resident gun nut, perhaps you could explain the fetishization of guns that the US has done over the past few hundred years? I asked at Xblog a while back, but didn’t really get any adequate responses. I can’t remember if you were one of them.

    My problem with guns is that no matter what, you cannot arm yourself to the point of meaningful revolution in a country that spends more on its standing army than the rest of the world combined. And guns do not exist as tools or have any other utility function than putting holes in people or animals at range. So why is everyone in the States so keen on them?

  4. 4
    Dave P

    Going from “the TSA is ineffective” to “I have proven the TSA is nothing but theatre” is a big leap. Yes, it’s shocking that a loaded gun can get on a plane through pat-downs, backscatter x-rays and screening. That could mean it’s nothing but theatre. It could just as easily prove that the TSA is horribly incompetent or that the security measures are poorly designed.

    But if a low standard of proof is enough for you, keep on going. I’ve doubtless given enough here to “prove” myself a gun nut or a TSA booster.

  5. 5
    Jason Thibeault

    No, Dave. I’m not trying to prove it’s just theatrics with this one post, it’s something I’ve long suspected, due to systemic incompetence. For instance, Adam Savage made it through a backscatter with two very long blades (video). Or an anecdote a friend once gave me of getting through a large number of security screenings with a Swiss army knife in a jacket pocket (which went through Xray/MRI/whatever) before the one in Toronto finally caught it and confiscated it.

    The point is, for all the “no liquids allowed on the planes” type measures, the system is purely reactive, ratcheting up the inconvenience of flying and making it seem safer because of all these inconveniences. Meanwhile, stories about how easy it is to slip through those screenings with your stuff untouched are prolific. As Michael Fisher points out, if terrorists want to bomb a plane, they can. It’s theatre for the passengers’ purposes, because you will feel like they’re doing everything in their power to protect you.

    If overreaction to a story about another TSA failing is enough to send you on a “you’re just bashing the TSA” rant, that’s decent corroborating evidence for both of your assertions in your last paragraph, but certainly not nearly enough data points to draw such conclusions. Maybe you could just tell us if you’re a gun nut or TSA booster?

  6. 6
    Nomen Nescio

    Jason:

    do you agree that the loaded .38 could have more easily gone off by being there, than by not being there?

    that’s the most blatantly, shamelessly obvious attempt to mis-frame a question i have seen in dog’s years. by this token, the aircraft that handgun was stowed onto was more likely to crash for having taken off than for having taxi’d to its destination along the highway system.

    no, that retort of mine’s unfair, aircraft have to expend actual work to NOT crash even if they’re just taxiing. try this — the Hoover dam is more likely to burst for having been built than if it had never been there.

    no, even THAT is unfair, the Hoover dam constantly and by necessity holds back immense hydrostatic forces that actively do wear down its tensile and compressive strengths. firearms, even loaded, are inert objects in every relevant sense. (and of course, every firearm is always loaded. but that’s another story.)

    basically, you are proceeding from an assumption that a firearm is — in and of itself, just by sitting there — an accident waiting to happen even if no outside forces act upon it. and this is simply not the case, modern guns do not work that way — until someone actively operates them, they’re quite inactive lumps of metal, even their ammunition being chemically fairly stable really.

    i may have to go back to the paleolithic to find a good comparison. Thog the caveman’s stone club is more of a risk for bashing in someone’s head by simply being there, sitting on Thog’s cave floor, than if it weren’t there. that’s almost fair.

    perhaps you could explain the fetishization of guns that the US has done over the past few hundred years?

    i’m afraid not. while i do live in the USA, i’m a first generation immigrant here and grew up in northern Europe — much of U.S. culture (such as it is) is still quite strange to me. anything i could say about U.S. sociology, much less its historical development, would likely be worse guesses than you could make yourself.

    i like guns, for a number of reasons (including “they go bang”, which frankly would be enough reason for my inner child) but that’s just me, and there’s definite limits to how much i like the things. how an entire country reacts to them and why is an issue far beyond me.

    arming oneself for overthrowing one’s government is a pretty silly idea, to me. if the government needs be overthrown, that can be done without any greater weapons than bricks and lead pipes if enough people are willing to both do and cause enough bleeding. as has been recently demonstrated elsewhere in the world, of course. (well, okay, Libya was as much awash in guns as the USA is, or nearly so. if Washington DC really needed a regime change, that’s probably more like how the scenario would play out. preparing for such an event in advance of its necessity is paranoid insanity, however.)

    and what a thing is “intended” to do — what its “purpose” is, in some abstract sense — is utterly beside the point. the vast majority of guns in the world get used for exactly two reasons: sitting on warehouse shelves, and punching holes in paper. that is their actual effect in practical usage. their design intent is completely irrelevant; trying to claim otherwise is magical thinking.

    by the way, note that everything i’ve said so far is a threadjack. that’s because i totally agree with your main point, that the TSA is security theater. i’ve been agreeing with Bruce Schneier on this point for a few years now, and the wastefulness of that entire organization infuriates me.

  7. 7
    Jason Thibeault

    I’m okay with a threadjack here, since it’s not drowning out other conversation about the main point (the security theatre stuff). Being that there’s no such conversation going on outside of Dave’s “is not!”, and since I’m the blogger and can set the rules however I want and even change them at a moment’s notice depending on my own personal caprices (and you’ll just have to trust me that I’m a consistently reasonable host), I’m more than willing to allow this conversation.

    Your analogy about the plane being safer from crashes by taxiing along the highway system, the resultant terrible highway accidents notwithstanding, does not hold. The airplane’s main purpose in having been built is to fly, not to crash. The gun’s main purpose in having been built is to go off, not to be an inert lump of metal on a shelf. It was built for the sole purpose of putting holes in things. There is nothing “magical thinking” about this assertion. It is far more likely to put holes in things by being present, than by not. Likewise, the plane is far more likely to fly to its destination safely and successfully, than to crash, since it was built to fly and not sit on a shelf (in a hangar).

    Since this gun was not secured for transport in any way, and since there are protocols for securing it for transport to begin with (for safety purposes!), an unsecured and loaded gun making it through two security checkpoints amounts to a gross violation of those safety laws.

    My main concern with the fetishization of guns in the States is primarily about how their owners use it to pretend like they’re exerting some amount of control over their lives and to imagine that they could overthrow the government if it came to it. I’m okay with people owning guns, knowing how to use guns, using guns for sport.

    I’m not okay with people owning guns and not knowing how to transport them safely, putting others at risk by potentially not knowing how to safely handle the gun. I’m also not okay with the idea of the gun being improperly maintained (not a stretch to say is possible given the lack of security!), and potentially misfiring when it tumbled to the ground. And if there was a fire in the luggage compartment in flight (possible, given how a GUN got into the luggage compartment!), then that gun could go off when the rounds cook off, compounding an already very bad situation.

    And I’m decidedly not okay with billions spent on ineffective screening processes, back to the main point. This tangent aside, I was more concerned with the fact that an unsecure gun got through all those screenings than that ZOMG ITS A GUN. You know?

  8. 8
    Nomen Nescio

    The airplane’s main purpose in having been built is to fly, not to crash.

    irrelevant. which one does it actually do, fly, or crash?

    the magical thinking is in the assumption that the designer’s (potentially unknown) intent matters to an item’s societal impact. such that, if i were to design and build myself a knife for the specific purpose of seeing how many throats a running man might slit with it in one night, this would somehow be a more dangerous knife than the five-dollar bread knife from the local department store which i used as a template.

    this is a very common form of magical thinking, mind you, and it creeps into the laws we pass all the time, to much annoyment. it may be the reason balisongs (“butterfly knives”) sometimes get banned where equivalent-length fixed blade knives typically aren’t. in actual practice, the effective difference is that balisong users tend to cut themselves much more often — and that is the only effective difference. (balisongs can be opened one handed; it is a flashy, fancy-looking maneuver. practice it on a dull knife first. meanwhile, fixed blades can ALSO be brought into use one-handed, and it is an entirely safe, trivially learned, much faster maneuver.)

    the Barrett line of .50 BMG rifles were intended for use as antimateriel and antipersonnel sniper rifles in wartime. however, given that the majority of their owners these days are almost certainly civilians it is entirely safe to say that their actual use is as stupidly expensive long-range paper punches and just about nothing else. who cares what the designer’s intent was? the actual practice is innocuous, should not that matter more? it does to me.

    Since this gun was not secured for transport in any way

    how do we know that?

    earlier i assumed (again, not necessarily a safe thing to do) that it was a double-action revolver. those can be secured enough to be carried on one’s body all day simply by being stowed in a holster. thousands of policemen all over the world did just that for decades. don’t over-think the potential danger of a gun in a bag; there’s a lot less of it than you’d suspect, and honestly most of it lies in the weapon being potentially stolen.

    the protocols for transporting firearms by airplane mainly have to do with legal liability, especially as regards potential theft. stowed in the cargo hold with noone able to get at them would be quite safe enough from a might-go-off point of view. (carrying firearms in the airplane cabin would be a silly and dangerous thing for anyone to do, including law enforcement. how would they ever get a clear shot at anything in a crowded cabin? there’s no safe backstop in there! pepper spray’s a much better idea.)

    I’m also not okay with the idea of the gun being improperly maintained (not a stretch to say is possible given the lack of security!), and potentially misfiring when it tumbled to the ground.

    see, you’re just making yourself look silly by saying such things. an unmaintained weapon is far, far, FAR more likely to simply not fire at all than to fire when it shouldn’t. (lack of maintenance tends to result in mechanisms gummed up by dust and grit and corrosion, not in parts moving when they shouldn’t.) it’s akin to worrying about an unmaintained car starting up on its own and wrecking your garage door by backing out into the driveway unprompted. the ignition interlocks don’t fail that way, because they don’t work that way to begin with.

    modern firearms design (once again, that’s “in the last half century or so”) makes guns safe by ensuring the safeties are passive. making one fire involves, in some sense, actively disabling those safeties one by one — and the thing has to be in working order for that to happen. if noone’s pulling the trigger, it’s not about to go off.

  9. 9
    Jason Thibeault

    I’ll absolutely agree with you that knives and such are no more worthy of being banned just by being of a specific class, but my understanding was that butterfly knives are illegal because they’re easier to conceal (e.g. you don’t need a sheath) and can be more rapidly deployed than fixed-blade knives of the same length. And with knives, their purpose is to cut things that they come into contact with, thus they have a very short range. While that thing could conceivably be a person, it also has high utility function in a vast number of other situations.

    Guns, on the other hand, serve one purpose — putting holes in things at range. Sure, you could use your gun to cut that rope you need to cut, but not as easily as with the knife. And you’re not about to expect a knife to propel itself rapidly out of a bag, but I’m sure a bullet could.

    I understand everything you’re saying about guns being inert pieces of metal. I also understand that, in a perfect world, everyone would have gun training and could handle when a gun suddenly falls out of a bag at your feet. But if that baggage handler didn’t know a) it was loaded, or b) how to pick up a gun properly so you don’t accidentally hit the trigger, someone could be shot.

    As for the guard, my understanding is that you are not supposed to (and in fact in some cases cannot, by design) trigger-lock a loaded revolver. And of all the rules the TSA has, this guy managed to break all the following bolded items:

    - All firearms must be declared to the air carrier during the ticket counter check-in process.
    – The firearm must be unloaded.
    – The firearm must be carried in a hard-sided container.
    – The container must be locked.
    – The passenger must provide the key or combination to the screener if it is necessary to open the container, and then remain present during screening to take back possession of the key after the container is cleared.
    – Any ammunition transported must be securely packed in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.
    – Firearm magazines/clips do not satisfy the packaging requirement unless they provide a complete and secure enclosure of the ammunition (e.g., by securely covering the exposed portions of the magazine or by securely placing the magazine in a pouch, holder, holster or lanyard).
    – The ammunition may also be located in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as it is properly packed as described above.

    – Black powder and percussion caps used with black-powder type firearms are not permitted in carry-on or checked baggage.

    Since the traveller broke one of those bolded rules, it was not secured for transport. I don’t know for sure whether there was a trigger lock on it, nor if it was one of those types of guns where the trigger lock also locks the chambers somehow. And I would suspect it’s less likely to have been, judging solely by the fact that it was loaded.

    Regardless of everything else, the handlers would have had zero danger if there was no gun. By introducing a gun into the mix, the handler picking the gun up immediately upped the danger level. I’m not saying I’m going to renege on my “easily”, though I’d temper it somewhat. It’s certainly easier for a gun to misfire when it is present than when it is not, just like it’s easier for a plane to crash when it’s trying to fly than when it’s on the ground.

  10. 10
    Jason Thibeault

    Additionally, by suggesting that an improperly maintained gun is “far more likely” to not fire, than to accidentally fire, you’re suggesting that it’s possible for it to accidentally fire. Is it possible?

    And is it possible for a gun that is not there to accidentally fire?

  11. 11
    Nomen Nescio

    any kind of folding knife is its own sheath, and so will be shorter (and easier to conceal) than a fixed blade knife of the same blade length. all of them, regardless of how they unfold, are slower to get into use than a fixed blade, which needs only be pulled out of the sheath. (or at very best the same speed. never mind the rare exceptions for now, though.)

    balisongs are fairly slow to unfold, as pocket knives go; the benchmade axis-lock i carry myself is much faster and easier. they’re also cumbersome and dangerous to unfold, there’s a high risk of cutting oneself — if the system were invented today, probably most knife makers would reject it. moral panics probably have more to do with their banning than safety does — just as is the case with automatic knives (switchblades).

    the training needed to safely handle a firearm that falls out of a bag unexpectedly is very, very simple: don’t pull the trigger unless you want it to go boom. if a baggage handler is really so simple-minded as to be unable to grasp that principle, then i believe the NRA has a firearms safety program aimed at five-year-olds that might be appropriate — or perhaps not, since its core teaching involves fetching an adult to handle the matter. seriously, basic firearms safety can be summed up in four lines and be summarized in five minutes or less.

    (read that last page i linked to. internalize what it teaches. you are then safe to handle a firearm, for as long as the memory sticks. us gun nuts try to make those rules into automatic reflexes; you don’t have to go quite that far, just don’t pick up a gun if you can’t remember and understand all four at the time. if the TSA doesn’t have enough time budgeted for that much training of its personnel, to even read them that simple web page…)

    of course you can trigger-lock a revolver, provided you have a trigger lock that fits the weapon’s trigger guard. loaded or not makes no difference, the trigger works the same either way. i’m not sure why you’re even bringing up trigger locks, though, where did they enter the picture? they’re a cumbersome and rarely-used method for accomplishing nothing that can’t be better done with other methods.

    your second reply is another effort to mis-frame the issue and introduce spin. we already dealt with that, get over it.

  12. 12
    Jason Thibeault

    Is a moral panic intrinsically bad? Certainly, most moral panics ARE bad — the war on drugs, the Salem witch hunts, the islamophobia and security theatre increases following 9/11, anti-Communist sentiment during the cold war — but are there not some moral panics that actually reflect accurately a populace’s sentiment against an entrenched systemic prejudice against them, like the civil rights movement or the Occupy Wall Street movement, both of which are moral panics against racism and rampant predatory capitalism respectively?

    Would therefore a ban on “flashy, intimidating” knives that can be concealed easier than regular fixed-blade knives be less a safety issue so much as taking away a toy used by people intending to mug people? Switchblades and butterfly knives are generally not used for the purpose of slicing bread. Nor for their utility in wilderness survival / camping — I’d much prefer a proper hunting knife with a sheath in those cases. Like with a gun, the whole point of preferring a butterfly knife to a fixed knife would be the flashy method of deployment, which if you’re good enough at, is no slower than simply unsheathing. And if you’re good at it, you’re going to have that much more intimidation factor. That, coupled with being able to hide it on your person, makes you significantly more dangerous as a mugger than someone who has to keep their knife in a sheath (and therefore likely visible), or in their hand.

    That you’re unwilling to admit that a poorly maintained gun could misfire by actually firing is rather telling. I won’t press the point, but I’m not going to “get over it”.

    I brought up the trigger guard because you first said that packing the gun for transport was purely for liability purposes, then asked how we knew it wasn’t secured for transport. I gave you the TSA rules that were broken in transporting the gun, but also gave you the benefit of the doubt that you meant it wasn’t trigger-locked.

  13. 13
    Nomen Nescio

    Is a moral panic intrinsically bad?

    it is intrinsically irrational, which makes it a bad basis for law. if a moral panic is objectively justified by something — the way that OWS is justified by income inequalities and power imbalances resulting from inequitable distribution of wealth — then use THOSE grounds for making whatever laws are appropriate. don’t just make laws because some number of people are riled up about something, unless they have some good reason to be.

    taking away a mugger’s toys is necessary and useful when you arrest the mugger and put them in jail. thinking that you can make a mugger not mug just by taking away something you think is a mugger’s toy, from everybody and not just muggers, before the fact of the mugging has even occurred, is an insult to human ingenuity. the tool does not make the mugger. find out what is actually driving crime rates, and address THAT instead.

    unless you have good evidence to show that some particular type of weapon is actually causing people to become muggers, taking that kind of weapon out of society is not a reasonable way to reduce muggings. use your political capital better, please, because i suspect we share a large amount of political capital between us and i think building social safety nets would be a better use of it. (also, that might stand some chance of actually reducing crime rates, too.)

  14. 14
    Pteryxx

    the training needed to safely handle a firearm that falls out of a bag unexpectedly is very, very simple: don’t pull the trigger unless you want it to go boom. if a baggage handler is really so simple-minded as to be unable to grasp that principle,

    Hello, I’m an intelligent educated person who did not know that letting a gun fall was safer than trying to catch it before I read Nomen Nescio’s post at #1. (Though I admit now I’m going “Oh, duh!”) Since baggage handlers have to deal with stuff falling out of unsecured bags all the time, the vast majority of which is NOT going to be loose firearms, and they’re busy and not looking for threats as part of their job (unlike screeners), it’s likely that a baggage handler might grab at a falling heavy object just by reflex. They’d have to RECOGNIZE a mystery object as a gun before any of those Four Rules of safe handling come into play. (I have no idea if there’s any safety training for baggage handlers that deals with unexpected dangerous items, such as assuming a mystery object might be a gun or sharp blade.)

  15. 15
    Jason Thibeault

    Nomen: I recognize that moral panics are irrational. Not everything that is irrational is invalid. Most irrational reactions are fear responses, predicated out of self-preservation. We evolved to be so, because the monkeys that didn’t freak out every time a bush rustled might get eaten by a leopard.

    Now, some irrational responses are absolutely invalid. Maybe even most. And we humans have the unique ability to retrain ourselves to respond differently to stimuli, outside our instinctual responses. So I agree, it would be preferable to retrain people to be less afraid of the greaser playing with a balisong than of the dude in a dark alley with the butcher knife, but if we can take away the toy meant to both intimidate and hurt people and be concealed easily, given that they have no other use outside those three points, I say why not? I mean, we already do that with things like broadswords, even though they’re effectively just really big bread-cutters.

    Or, let’s go with the nuclear option. Nukes are designed to explode, but what they DO is sit on shelves. Should nuclear disarmament be considered an irrational moral panic?

  16. 16
    Nomen Nescio

    Not everything that is irrational is invalid.

    no, but we have no rational reason to believe it valid, hence if it does turn out to be valid that may be simple chance. i’d rather not base laws on chance.

    if we can take away the toy meant to both intimidate and hurt people and be concealed easily, given that they have no other use outside those three points, I say why not?

    because it won’t stop thugs from intimidating anyone, they’ll just pick another tool to do it with. and who says they have no other use? balisongs are knives, they are fully as useful as any other sharpened bits of steel. why take away a useful tool just because some thugs use it to intimidate their victims with, when you know this will not prevent thugs from intimidating people?

    and you’re not a rational enough debater to be handling any nuclear options as yet, Jason. let’s stick with the broadsword option and see if you can manage not to cut yourself with it: why SHOULD broadswords be banned? they’re impossible to conceal and — unless you’re a trained fencer, which i bet you’re not — about as likely to stab yourself with as to harm anybody else. what’s their negative societal impact that provides a legitimate reason for the state to ban them? where’s the plague of broadsword crime and intimidation that necessitates taking them away from everybody?

  17. 17
    Jason Thibeault

    why take away a useful tool just because some thugs use it to intimidate their victims with, when you know this will not prevent thugs from intimidating people?

    You hinted at a good reason earlier — because the majority of people happen to think this is a good idea, due to being explicitly intimidated by this. Acceding to this demand, given that it is not terribly onerous (e.g. it is not outlawing all knives in all situations), actually wins you some political capital. That political capital can absolutely be spent in ways that you and I would both agree are useful, like those social safety nets we damn well need.

    And I don’t think you need to be a fencer to use a broadsword. You need to be very physically strong and capable of lifting swinging a very heavy object without succumbing to the temptation of resting it on your shoulder or something.

    As for whether or not I’m rational enough to debate nuclear weapons, the simple fact that you declined to discuss them and preferred instead to suggest that I’m in some way irrational is rather telling too, is it not?

  18. 18
    JesseW, the Juggling Janitor

    @Nomen Nescio, Thanks for the pointer to CorneredCat. I hadn’t seen the site before, and have now spent that last 2 hours reading it. Good stuff. Good, impressively clear explanation of why (some) people carry guns.

  19. 19
    Nomen Nescio

    You hinted at a good reason earlier — because the majority of people happen to think this is a good idea, due to being explicitly intimidated by this.

    they would rather be getting intimidated by tire irons? they think that would be a better idea? because that’s all that will happen, the thugs who — y’know — DO THE INTIMIDATING will simply pick another tool.

    the majority of people, regardless of what they might tell the pollsters, are not intimidated by butterfly knives. or by broadswords, or axes, or whatever tools. they are intimidated by violent thugs using some tool or other to intimidate them with. taking away the tool will not take away the thug. until you can understand this basic difference, Jason, you’re not even capable of diagnosing the problem much less prescribing possible solutions.

    you say a broadsword’s usable for anyone who’s strong enough to swing it? so’s an axe. the potential criminal uses of axes seem to me little different from those of a broadsword, and honestly, nobody NEEDS an axe in this day and age — what is your logic for not calling for axes to be banned?

    (you’re wrong about the particulars of a broadsword, by the way, but you being wrong about the technical details of weaponry is not new. my focus here is trying to identify your errors in logic, so i’ll ignore it.)

  20. 20
    Jason Thibeault

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TTx-39gYqE

    That’s what I’m talking about when I say broadsword. Not the 17th century basket swords, not the light but long fencing swords. Modern parlance has made “broadsword” mean “big fucking sword”. Whether it’s being used ahistorically is quibbling about semantics and using semantics as a club against me is getting really rather tiring. So far, rather than point out actual flaws in my logic, you’ve dodged two topics by saying I’m not capable of arguing them, but all you’ve said is that banning weaponry qua weaponry is wrong because it’s about the person wielding the weaponry, not the weapons themselves. And while I absolutely agree that weapons without owners are largely inert pieces of metal that can’t propel themselves into someone accidentally, and that it takes a weapon plus criminal intent to do damage, I don’t honestly see why you’re so fixated on making every weapon perfectly legal. It suggests to me that you don’t like laws implemented for broader safety concerns, protecting the young and reckless from one another and themselves.

    Axes have utility in chopping wood. I’m well aware there are better tools to do it with, and I’m well aware that someone with criminal intent will turn anything they want into a weapon. I’m also of the opinion that some weapons are more dangerous than others, and that makes them distasteful to me, especially in context of a so-called civilized society. To me that includes guns, coming as I do from a culture that generally doesn’t fetishize them. To you, who’ve obviously spent a good deal of time studying items that can be used to put holes into people, they’re just harmless fun.

    I think I’m done with this conversation until you can stop making smarmy and insulting little jabs all the damn time about how little I apparently know about specific weaponry and how that means I must be irrational, illogical or otherwise incapable of conversing on the matter. You’ve abused my patience once too often.

  21. 21
    Nomen Nescio

    right. that youtube video (from the hitlery — sorry, history — channel; not a huge authority in my eyes) shows a bunch of big guys in chain mail swinging big pieces of steel at each other. (1) what connection does that have with modern day criminal law? (2) what connection does that have with modern criminal behavior? (3), and most importantly, which of those connections would not also apply to axes?

    recall, you’re the one who claimed broadswords ought to be banned. i’m the one trying to find out what your logical reason for saying this might be; my suspicion is that you have a serious logical disconnect in your thinking. you seem oddly reticent to explain your thinking, preferring to veer off into technical details you do not understand and bludgeoning me with propagandistic talking points you do not logically support.

    and if focusing on the weapons’ wielders — the people involved — instead of the mere weapons themselves is all i do here, then i shall have kept my focus and attention where they belong. humans are far more important than the tools we make.

  22. 22
    Jason Thibeault

    I didn’t say broadswords SHOULD BE banned, just that they ARE. I’m perfectly willing to say that weaponry (the class of tool that has no other utility function aside from hurting people or sports where you pretend to hurt people — surely you can agree with that statement!) should be licensed, metered out, restricted, so that when someone is hurt with a weapon the owner of the weapon can be held to account. This includes guns.

    Since you have no idea what I’m saying should be done about weaponry, I suspect the logical disconnect is yours.

  23. 23
    Nomen Nescio

    weaponry (the class of tool that has no other utility function aside from hurting people or sports where you pretend to hurt people — surely you can agree with that statement!)

    i’m unconvinced that any such class of tool actually exists.

    oh, wait, one does — the class of tool i myself would refer to using the label “torture implements”. what i would call “weapons” all have other, innocuous uses, including but not necessarily limited to simple entertainment (of the sort that doesn’t involve simulating sadistic acts).

    since you have no idea what weapons can be used for, much less what they actually are used for, i suggest you should be doing a lot more listening than talking, such as to reduce your ignorance rather than put it on display.

  24. 24
    Worldtraveller

    Glad this conversation is still going, or I would have missed it.

    I come at this topic from a completely different perspective. I’m an airplane person. Specifically, I am a structural engineer for a major aircraft manufacturer in the US. I know to a reasonably good degree of confidence how much damage it would take to bring down an commercial sized aircraft, although the specifics could vary widely from say a 737 to a 747. I also have a quite thorough working knowledge of the regulations that govern airline (operators) and aircraft (manufacturers).

    I will say, without reservation, that the title of this blog post is absolutely correct. The TSA is nothing but security theater, with a healthy dose of cronyism and probably someone, somewhere, is making a big profit from selling all the new toys to the government, being paid , of course, by our tax dollars.

    I will note that there seems to be some confusion here. The gun fell out of a checked bag. This means that it was checked at the counter. It never went through the backscatter/xray/metal detectors that the passengers go through.

    The TSA searches checked bags only one way (currently) and that’s a hand search by the TSA. [Note that this is a big reason why if you want to carry anything remotely valuable with you, take it with in carry on luggage, or it has a decent chance of 'getting lost'.] I know enough about aircraft, that I could probably board a plane naked, and still have a decent chance of bringing the whole thing down without too much effort. There are thousands of engineers like me in the US. Of course, on top of that, I’ve also had a significant amount of (melee) weapons and martial arts training, so I think I could have prevented some of what happened on 9/11 as well.

    The TSA (Tub Stacking Assholes) provides a convenient way to acclimate US citizens to being subject to state authority. In my opinion, that’s pretty much the primary reason it was implemented in the manner that it was. I say that because having security on airplanes is a great idea, but American ‘exceptionalism’ strikes again. A five minute perusing of how other countries do their airport security would have yielded faster, cheaper, and much less hastle measures, like what are used in most of Europe. The system used in most of Europe (I haven’t travelled to every country in the Eurozone) would have easily caught this before the guy even checked in. It’s what the US should have had in place, and should still have in place. I bet it would save a lot of money, but it would cut into some politician’s kickbacks/pork spending, so it will never happen now.

  25. 25
    Jason Thibeault

    And I strongly suggest you stop abusing your hosts’ patience, calling them irrational, illogical, ignorant, and incapable of discussing certain topics. People listen to you more readily when you’re not insulting them in every post, especially so baselessly and without corroborating evidence.

    From Wiki: “A weapon, arm, or armament is a tool or instrument used with the aim of causing damage or harm (either physical or mental) to living beings or artificial structures or systems. In human society weapons are used to increase the efficacy and efficiency of activities such as hunting, fighting, self-defense, crime, law enforcement, and war.”

    You’re equivocating about the word “weapon” saying that weapons are fine but torture implements are not. How about you define torture implement? Surely torture implements have other uses! An Iron Maiden would probably make a good meat tenderizer. A rack is good for stretching out non-human objects. And hell, a woodworking shop has tons of torture implements, like vise grips, chisels, and even simple wood shims!

    Since you have no idea what I’m saying about weapons, since you have every intention of simply insulting me at every turn, I strongly advise you to either get back on topic and actually explain to me why we should not regulate weaponry, or pick back up one of the threads you dropped like whether nuclear disarmament is bad. Or you could save us both some time and explain WHY you’re arguing what you’re arguing — e.g., that you think there’s some sort of civil right to implements of destruction that regulation in the interest of public safety would prevent you from having.

  26. 26
    Jason Thibeault

    Sorry fastlane, that was directed (of course) at Nomen Nescio, since he was basically the only person still active on this post.

  27. 27
    Nomen Nescio

    you were the one who defined torture implements for me: “class of tool that has no other utility function aside from hurting people or sports where you pretend to hurt people”.

    now, weapons can, of course, be used for those two things (what tool cannot?) but that is not their only utility function. for instance, a sniper rifle can be gainfully used for target shooting, which can be both competitive fun and noncompetitive challenge.

    (trivia quiz: what’s the definition of “sniper rifle”? why, it’s any decent rifle that has a sniper behind it…)

    why exactly you think weapons have no other use than those two ones, i cannot say with any certainty. i am beginning to develop my suspicions about it, but they’re not at all complimentary towards you, Jason. and why exactly you now seem to be claiming woodworking tools fall into this category… i’ll assume you didn’t mean that one seriously, but simply that your rhetoric got out of the hands of your reasoning faculties in an attempt to score some sort of points against me.

    Since you have no idea what I’m saying about weapons

    i’m not sure YOU have any idea what you’re saying about weapons, to be honest, for if you did i’d expect your points to be more coherent and more convincingly stated. my own main points here are only tangentially about weapons as such; mainly i’m talking about the people who use weapons. they’re much more dangerous, anyway. watch the hands, not the face…

    i’ve not “dropped” any thread about nuclear disarmament. i’ve refused to pick up on that red herring of yours; it has nothing to do with the subject at hand, and you only introduced it because you thought you’d be on more familiar ground beating that talking-point drum than actually explaining your logic.

    nor have i ever stated that we should not regulate weapons. i’ve not so much as touched on what regulatory structure i think would be prudent to have, except indirectly by stating i think all laws should have a rational basis, and by implying moral panics and feelings of intimidation are not rational enough to qualify. i stand by all that.

    as for your complaints about your patience — frankly, your mental state is YOUR problem. i’ll just state as an observation of fact that this little discussion so far has been downright congenial by the standards of much of the internet. why, i’ve not insulted either your person or your parentage even once, yet — i’ve called you illogical and your arguments irrational, but that isn’t even warming up.

  28. 28
    Stephanie Zvan

    Does Nomen have a point here aside from “Anything can be a weapon, so don’t touch my guns, waah!”? Sure, as fastlane points out, you can never achieve perfect security. What you can do is make it harder for the non-experts and the non-suicidal to take you out. That means dealing with things that are obviously weapons, because that’s what the average idiot thinks to use and can use without much training. That’s why the liquids rule is so stupid.

    Also, what’s this crap about needing to teach baggage handlers to deal with guns? If a gun isn’t declared and in a locked, hard-sided case where the pulling of a trigger can’t happen, it’s a security matter and should be dealt with by security only. It shouldn’t be touched at all except by an authority who understands rules of evidence, because someone should be arrested at that point. Any gun owner that careless can make all of his or her excuses to a judge and hopefully lose their license.

    Making that grade of idiot the responsibility of your average baggage handler, treating them as a routine nuisance, is insane.

  29. 29
    Jason Thibeault

    i’ve not “dropped” any thread about nuclear disarmament. i’ve refused to pick up on that red herring of yours; it has nothing to do with the subject at hand, and you only introduced it because you thought you’d be on more familiar ground beating that talking-point drum than actually explaining your logic.

    And on what information about me is this assertion predicated?

    You’re projecting a hell of a lot, Nomen. You’ve never addressed my actual stance on weaponry (including guns), which I’ve made abundantly clear — they should be regulated for the purposes of holding people to account when innocents are hurt. Not banned, not eliminated. Because weapons are significantly more efficient as implements of destruction than makeshift weapons like tire irons, they are a public safety risk. So that when mass murders happen because some gun nut snapped (and they do happen, because they do snap) we know that person was at least moderately sane at the time they obtained the gun and ammo. And by public safety, I mean any complete fucking idiot can obtain, in a totally deregulated gun-nut paradise, a weapon that can put a lot of holes in a lot of things at a very large range in a very short period of time. Try killing fourteen women with a tire iron. See how many you get. Or maybe liberals, like the gun nut from Norway. Hell, even try pulling off feats like that using a sword. Of any kind.

    And guns are, as Stephanie said, excellent ways of committing suicide. Take away the quickest and most efficient ways of killing one’s self, and you prevent a lot of deaths by the simple action of raising the bar for how painful and difficult it will be to carry out your intentions.

    Your only argument here is that anyone who thinks guns are useless outside the practice of putting holes in things at range, is irrational and illogical and engaging in moral panic. I’ve given you a number of reasons that regulations about guns are entirely rational, as has Stephanie, and if you continue with the abject disrespect for your hosts, you’re done here. You came into my house to tell me I’m an idiot for not knowing as much about tools of destruction as you. You’ve told me I’m irrational for wanting a record to be kept. And we are more than capable of distinguishing between a weapon used to murder a lot of people in a short time, and a weapon used for hunting or sport. We should be allowed to treat them differently because to do otherwise lowers the bar for how difficult it is to mass-murder people.

    It is a disturbing thing to see someone advocate for gun proliferation for the purposes of sport knowing full well that these guns are significantly more capable of killing people without any sort of training whatsoever than, say, any other makeshift weapon the nutcase with a grudge can get their hands on.

    Congratulations for getting under my skin and making what would have been a good conversation, between two rational actors of opposing viewpoints, one about how stupid and ignorant and unstable I am. Me. The guy advocating for less access to weaponry.

    This conversation is over, Nomen.

  30. 30
    Pteryxx

    Also, what’s this crap about needing to teach baggage handlers to deal with guns?

    Assuming this was in response to me, all I meant was that baggage handlers probably have some sort of protocol for opened and potentially dangerous bags. Bags come open all the time, and before the handlers try to close them or stuff things back in, they should take into account that anything could be in there – guns, drugs, broken glass bottles, small animals, whatever. I don’t know anything about *actual* employee training for baggage handlers, but I’d guess that after an incident like this, when a loaded gun falls out of a bag while a crew’s handling it, somebody would call a refresher meeting or at least post a notice in the break room saying “Reminder: Safety First!”

  31. 31
    Stephanie Zvan

    Pteryxx, nah, it was a response to Nomen’s suggestion that the gun was perfectly safe as long as no one was mishandling it, just an oopsie on the part of the owner.

  32. 32
    Pteryxx

    Ah, thanks Stephanie for clarifying.

    All I have to say about that is I can see spending 30 seconds teaching the do-not-grab rule, since as part of my workplace training, I had to consciously learn the do-not-grab rule for falling scalpels. *shudder*

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