What’s wrong with the TSAs gun obsession?

Smit/Shutterstock
Smit/Shutterstock

Maybe the TSA hasn’t ever caught a single terrorist red-handed, but it’s given us something almost as good: guns. Lots of guns.

Guns are a hot topic today, and not just in Washington. The TSA confiscated them in record numbers last year, and most of them were loaded. They make news, even in small amounts.

No one is going to argue that having guns on planes is a good idea, even after the TSA’s surprise announcement that some knives would be allowed. But is it fair to connect aviation safety to the confiscation of firearms?

Airport security can be better — and here’s how

1-IMG_0461It’s been more than a decade since the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems.

Almost from the beginning, a small group of activists have kept a vigilant eye on the agency. When TSA agents pilfered your luggage, they spoke up. When the blueshirts forced us through inadequately tested scanners, they said something. When agents treated us like prison inmates, they fired up their laptop computers and they wrote.

A silent majority sounds off about airport security

Wang Song/Shutterstock
Wang Song/Shutterstock

Intrusive airport searches are just fine with a majority of air travelers. They also think the TSA has singlehandedly prevented a 9/11 repeat, and that critics of the agency’s current practices are nothing more than “anxious advocates.”

At least that’s the impression you might be left with if you read a recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune and other surprisingly favorable mentions in the mainstream media. Even amid the sequestration slowdowns, we’re big fans of the TSA.

Connect the dots, and the conclusion is inescapable: There’s a silent majority of Americans who really do believe the TSA is the “gold standard” in aviation security, as the TSA’s John Pistole recently proclaimed. We’re safer today because of the TSA, and out in flyover country we feel nothing but gratitude toward America’s airport sentries, who are the last line of defense against terrorism.

If you love the TSA, read this story

It happened again.

At a time when the federal agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems can least afford it, there was another dust-up involving a young passenger — this time to Lucy Forck, a three-year-old with spina bifida flying to Disney World with her family.

When the little girl in a wheelchair is pulled over for a pat-down, her mother starts taping the procedure on her phone, which is permitted.

Is there a better way to screen airline passengers?

scannedIf you look enviously at the TSA Pre-Check line whenever you’re at the airport — where pre-cleared air travelers breeze through the checkpoint without having to be scanned, remove their shoes or face a humiliating “enhanced” pat-down — then join the club.

If you ask yourself: “What sets them apart from me?” and the answer is, “Nothing, really,” then you’re well on your way to answering a question that has haunted aviation security professionals since 2009.

Is there a better way to screen air travelers than scanning them?

3 reasons you’ll shut up after being humiliated at the airport

tsascanLike most infrequent air travelers, Vicki Burton just wants to get through security without causing a scene. So on a recent flight from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Miami, she obediently stepped into the airport’s full-body scanner, held her arms up, and waited for the agent to wave her through.

He didn’t.

Instead, a female screener was summoned to give Burton an “enhanced” pat-down. “My breasts were patted down right there in front of God and everybody,” she says. “I wasn’t even afforded the privacy of a screen. I was so stunned, I was just mute. What do you say without being arrested? What should I have done?”

Can I tell you a secret about airport security?

hyxdyl/Shutterstock
hyxdyl/Shutterstock
If you think the American government keeps too many secrets, you should meet Jose Lacson.

Lacson lost his job as a federal air marshal in 2011 after allegedly disclosing “unauthorized” information to the public. The TSA says he published what it calls “sensitive security information” (SSI) in a website forum.

But here’s the interesting thing: In an appeal to his dismissal, Lacson claims the posts were fictional. The information referenced the number, deployment, and attrition rate of federal air marshals hired at various times and deployed at various duty stations, according to a report.

I repeat: Lacson says he made it all up.

3 troubling ways the TSA punishes passengers who opt out

Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Africa Studio/Shutterstock
If you don’t want to walk through a poorly tested full-body scanner or have a TSA agent belittle your anatomy before your next flight, then you still have the right to opt out and submit to an “enhanced” pat-down.

That’s exactly what I did on a recent trip from Orlando to Atlanta. Actually, I do it every time I fly.

But as I waited for a male agent — who would ask me to spread my legs, would touch my torso, rub the inside of my legs, and feel the back of my neck and arms — I began to understand what the TSA really means when it says it’s focusing its efforts on “intelligence-driven, risk-based screening procedures.”

The TSA wants to be everywhere in 2013 — here’s why we shouldn’t let it

Photo by Nathan Hansen/Hansenlawoffice.com
Photo by Nathan Hansen/Hansenlawoffice.com
When the Minnesota Vikings faced off against the Green Bay Packers last weekend in Minneapolis, the big story wasn’t that the Vikings defeated the Pack to secure a wildcard berth.

It was, strangely, the TSA.

That’s right, the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems was patrolling the Metrodome. Nathan Hansen, a North St. Paul, Minn., attorney, snapped a few photos of the agents before the game, and broadcast them on Twitter.

“I don’t think any federal law enforcement agency needs anything to do with a football game,” he told me yesterday.

7 things you’ll love about the TSA

Carolina K. Smith MD/Shutterstock.com

It’s been almost three years to the day since Special Agent Robert Flaherty knocked on my front door and handed me a subpoena.

The Department of Homeland Security order — which would have forced me to reveal the name of a source who had sent me a “secret” TSA security directive — was dropped a few days later after I told the feds I’d see them in court. It also turned me from an aviation security skeptic into one of the TSA’s most vocal critics. Every week I take the agency to task on my consumer advocacy site.

So you’d think that when it comes to the subject of airport safety, I wouldn’t have one nice thing to say. But that would be wrong.

Latest