What’s wrong with the TSAs gun obsession?


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.

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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?

If the objective is to stop airborne terrorism, probably not. The weapon du jour isn’t a gun. It’s too obvious. Instead, the terrorists apparently prefer boxcutters (9/11) and plastic explosives (Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab).

During the last attempted hijacking, which happened in China in 2012, extremists reportedly used perfectly legal metal canes to try to take over the aircraft. They failed because passengers fought back.

Guns are rarely used to hijack a plane anymore. After a rash of firearm-related incidents in the ‘60s and ‘70s, loaded weapons fell out of favor with terrorists. The last time one was used was in 2009, when a lone gunman forced his way through security onto a Canadian aircraft in Jamaica. The standoff ended with no casualties.

There’s probably a bad reason why terrorists prefer something other than firearms. Fear of an “explosive” decompression, which was debunked on a popular cable TV show a few years ago. Thanks, Hollywood. Also, it’s just too obvious.

Permanent emergency?

And yet the TSA acts as if it’s stopping planes from falling out of the sky by confiscating guns from passengers — almost all of which were inadvertently packed in a carry-on bag.

Consider, for example, the recent case of Robert Kellerman of Long Pond, Pa., who was arrested by Port Authority Police officers in Newark. His “crime”? Accidentally packing his gun in his carry-on luggage. Was Kellerman going to run the plane into a skyscraper or reroute it to Cuba? No. It appears he didn’t even know he’d packed the weapon.

Same thing goes for 52-year-old Christopher Ledford of Kennesaw, Ga., who was arrested at the Atlanta airport for bringing a gun through a TSA checkpoint in early February. At the time, he was the ninth air traveler of the year whose gun was confiscated by agents in Atlanta.

These passengers are guilty of only one thing: being forgetful.

Time to stop looking for guns?

Should TSA stop searching for firearms? Of course not. Even before the agency’s existence, firearms weren’t allowed on planes, and with good reason.

But let’s not lose our sense of perspective. The TSA treats every firearms confiscation as if it’s just stopped a 9/11 sequel.

“26 firearms discovered this week!” it recently proclaimed on its blog. “24 were loaded and seven had rounds chambered. Here are pictures of some of the firearms.”

The confiscations are a double-edged sword. With the public’s attention fixed on guns, we’re often reminded of the many weapons that get through, suggesting our so-called “gold-standard” airport security is a lot more porous than we’re willing to admit.

But it’s also a distraction from the real problem. If the flying public is led to believe that the TSA is making progress and stopping criminals from boarding a plane, then it can continue to justify its bloated $8-billion-a-year budget.

Truth is, the TSA is looking for a one-in-a-billion terrorist who wants to blow up a plane, and the rest of the time, it’s supposed to be in the customer-service business, coaching passengers through a hopelessly convoluted and confusing screening process.

The TSA’s gun obsession is just that — a pointless obsession that detracts it from its real mission.

Is the TSA's gun obsession good for aviation security?

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70 thoughts on “What’s wrong with the TSAs gun obsession?

  1. Not very person who attempts to bring a weapon (and by this I mean gun) on board an aircraft is a terrorist. Having said that, if you own a firearm you are responsible for it. Part of that, in my opinion, is securing your weapon properly (or, at the least, knowing its whereabouts). Forgetting you have a weapon in your carry on bag may not make you a terrorist but it does make you an irresponsible gun owner. What if those men had their grandchildren over and the children discovered the weapon in their bag? What if, on the loaded weapons, the safety had slipped off in the bag and accidentally discharged?

    I can see forgetting a set of nail clippers. But a weapon is a different story.

    1. And forgetting it with a ’round chambered.’ This story is riddled with pure speculation. How do you know these people aren’t terrorists? Or mentally unstable? You’re just guessing that there was no ill intent!

      But let’s think for a minute. Carrying a loaded firearm with a round chambered and ready to fire would be an awesome responsibility for an individual. Yet these people ‘forgot’ they had a loaded firearm with them. In an airport? After approaching security? With metal detectors and x-ray machines? Really, nothing jogged their memory that they’ve got a loaded firearm with them. So Chris’s playing down this problem is, “Oh, they’re just stupid, forgetful, irresponsible people with these loaded guns. No big deal.” Umm… yes it IS a big deal! Even if they’re not terrorists, do you want people who are by definition ‘stupid, forgetful and/or irresponsible’ with a loaded gun on your plane?

      And the reason the Chinese hijacker was foiled was because he COULD be overpowered. The weapon was a cane. Not so easy to overpower somebody with a 16-round 9mm Glock. And the reason guns aren’t so popular with terrorists? Ummm… there’s a high probability the TSA will catch you.

      And IMO, the TSA’s ‘obsession’ with guns is that (1) they’re easy to get in America and (2) people keep trying to sneak them onto planes. So, yeah, duh, keep looking for them.

    2. Well said, and David Young’s response is excellent as well. There are a lot of TSA foolishness and foibles to write about; this isn’t one of them, Chris.

      1. Yes. I agree. One thing I AM glad for with the TSA (and there is not much), is that they confiscate guns. And if someone carries a loaded gun – with a bullet in the chamber – and they not only don’t have it holstered on their body but they’re not sure where it is, then they are dangerous morons who deserve to have their guns confiscated and they deserve to do time in prison.

    3. Exactly my thought! How does one ‘forget’ that their gun is in their luggage, carry-on or otherwise???? One should never forget where their gun(s) are 100% of the time!

  2. There is no need for anyone other than an air marshal and maybe the pilot to have a gun on a plane. Why would you need it unless the plane was flying through Alaska taking you on a hunting trip or somewhere else as isolated where you have a possibility of landing in the wilderness and being surrounded by hostile wildlife.

    Personally, I don’t want to be around anyone who “forgets” where they put their gun. “Forgetting” where you put your car keys is one thing, but “forgetting” where your gun is could lead to someone getting shot. I have a very difficult time believing anyone who says they did not know they had a gun in their bag. I know exactly what is in all of my bags at all times when I travel. After all, I put the stuff in there so I should remember. And yes, I have several firearms and even have a carry permit. But I don’t carry any of them in my luggage.

    The possibility of a gun fired inside an airplane causing depressurization is very unlikely. This is a myth. Unless the person firing the gun is very lucky (or unlucky depending on your view) and hits a fuel tank or cuts through multiple electrical or hydraulic lines resulting in a loss of control of the plane, the small holes will not cause a plane to depressurize. In fact, a 747 can lose up to 5 windows in the main cabin and still maintain a sufficient level of pressurization to not require oxygen for the passengers. Not saying it would be a comfortable ride with the windows blown out, but the plane will not depressurize like in the movies.

    1. Yeah, saw that on Mythbusters. The idea of a bullet causing ‘explosive decompression’ was totally busted. It does make whistling sound as the air rushes out, so that might be annoying (after your ringing in your ears caused by a firearm being discharged in an aircraft cabin, and assuming you could hear it over all the hysterical people screaming in terror.)

      1. While what was done on Mythbusters (btw, a very unscientific method), showed there was no “explosive” decompression, it still caused decompression. ANY hole in the aircraft will allow the pressure to escape and decompress the cabin. The question is whether the pressurization system can replace it quicker than it is loss.

        One other thing to note is the ammunition used by the air marshals is a special round of a compressed powder. It can penetrate soft items, like a body, but breaks apart when it strikes a hard object, like the skin of the aircraft. That is to prevent any rupture of the cabin.

        1. I expect you could slap one of the in-flight magazines on the hole and minimize the leak very easily. Assuming they didn’t charge you for the magazine, of course. 🙂

        2. Planes leak air all the time and are constantly being refilled with fresh air from outside. The seals around the doors are not air tight. The exit row windows leak (that’s why it feels so cold on the exit rows of some older 737s). There is a hole in the plane already where old air is allowed to escape (under control) to be replaced by incoming air from the compression system. An airplane is not like a balloon where you pump it up once and it stays full until it lands and the doors are opened. The air system on a modern plane expects there to be some leakage and compensates for it.

          1. Yes. As I said, ANY hole will cause the plane to decompress. The question is can the pressurization system replace the pressure faster than it loses it. For an aircraft operating normally, the answer is yes it can based on the known loss rate. However, if more leaks are introduced, then there might be problems.

            Not sure if you were trying to imply that I thought the plane was like a balloon. If you took it that way then I apologize for not being clearer in my original post.

          2. Not implying anything. Just stating for those who think that planes react like they do in movies. I apologize if it sounded like anything else.

            One of my college internships was with an airplane manufacturer where I worked with the team that was designing a pressurization system. Yes, the planes flying now can handle quite a few additional leaks before pressure loss becomes a problem. Most planes where the oxygen masks deploy these days are due to a failure in the pressurization system, not holes opening up.

      2. There’s always the sci-fi meme that people will either explode or their blood will boil if exposed to a vacuum or outer space. It makes for good special effects, but the reality is simply that one would run out of oxygen. In the case of decompression, that’s why they have the masks – so that hopefully there’s enough oxygen to keep passengers alive such that the pilot can make it down to lower altitude before passengers asphyxiate.

  3. “No one is going to argue that keeping guns off a plane is a bad idea,” Did you mean keeping guns off of planes is a “GOOD” idea?

  4. I am absolutely astounded by this story. You can argue that the TSA has not stopped any terrorists (which is a stupid argument, IMO, but that’s another story). But one thing you can’t argue is that they have stopped a lot of people from taking loaded guns onto planes. I read that TSA blog. It does not mention terrorism once. It does not purport to say “we stopped all of these terrorists”. What it does say is that they stopped 26 gun from getting onto airplanes in one week! I don’t know about you, maybe you have had your head in the sand and have not heard any news in recent history, but for me that’s a damn good thing that they have accomplished! While you attack them endlessly, they have stopped a bunch of people from taking guns onto planes. How many Sandy Hook or Aurora incidents have they prevented? Yes, the culprits all said they just forgot the guns were in their carry-on. I’m sure everyone would say that, including the person who concealed bullets in a hidden compartment in the handle of their bag or the person who made a space in his shoe for a knife or the guy who cut a hole in a book to hide his gun.

    And, you imply that using a gun to hijack a plane has just become unfashionable among terrorists or that they don’t because they are frightened of explosive decompression (you’ve got to be kidding me, right?). Terrorists quit using guns to hijack planes when the FAA instituted airport screenings in the 1970’s.There was a string of hijackings in the 60’s and 70’s with guns, they instituted airport screening, and no more guns in hijackings (at least in the US). Seems like a result to me. Are you thinking they are all going to watch a Mythbusters episode and decide to start sneaking them in again?

    You can argue a lot about the TSA, but you can’t say they haven’t accomplished finding guns getting onto airplanes. They definitely have. And, some were clearly trying to sneak them through security for whatever reason, and I can’t think of a lot of good reasons for that. Even if you buy the argument that people forget they put a loaded and chambered gun in their carryon, then those people are criminally irresponsible gun owners and I’ll bet that irresponsible gun owners are probably responsible for orders of magnitudes more deaths and injuries than all of the terrorists in the world and thank you TSA for protecting me from those people.

    If one person sees that blog post and decides it’s too hard to take their gun onto a plane and shoot a bunch of people, I think they have accomplished a lot. They made it hard to take a gun onto a plane in the 1970’s and terrorists quit trying to hijack planes with guns and you would say they accomplished nothing because they didn’t catch more terrorists. Was your flu shot a waste because there is no evidence it stopped you from getting the flu and think of all of risk of side effects you endured.

    1. “They made it hard to take a gun onto a plane in the 1970’s and terrorists quit trying to hijack planes with guns and you would say they accomplished nothing because they didn’t catch more terrorists.”

      The “They” in the 1970s was not the TSA. The TSA has done nothing new in preventing guns from being taken on board. The only thing changed in that regard is it now cost $8 billion a year and they are letting more through now than the system did pre-TSA.

          1. You have got to be kidding me! That link only indicated that they used to catch a lot more guns. It says nothing about percentage that the don’t catch then or now. Why do they catch fewer guns than they did 30 years ago? I don’t know, but why do you assume the same number are trying now as did 30 years ago when security was a much newer idea? Are you assuming the same number try as back then, but 50% get through security now? That’s ridiculous.

          2. You know what’s ridiculous? That people think anything TSA does is keeping “bad guys” and “bad things” off of planes. Seriously.

          3. 50% get through security now? That’s ridiculous.

            Reality is more ridiculous than that:

            “A person briefed on the latest tests tells ABC News the failure rate approaches 70 percent at some major airports.”


            Keep in mind that there are about twice as many passengers today as there were in 1985. So all else being equal (I know, I know, dicey assumption) we would expect to find twice as many guns today — not HALF as many guns like Saul B observed.

            When you also throw in the fact that reports of guns getting through have implicated the new scanner machines (see: http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/TSA-Agent-Slips-Through-DFW-Body-Scanner-With-a-Gun-116497568.html ) it’s not really plausible that TSA is better at finding guns today than 30 years ago.

      1. In the 80s there used to be this fear that this new “plastic gun” from a new gunmaker called Glock would be able to get past metal detectors and X-rays. The truth is that a Glock handgun has a metal barrel and the ammunition would still need metal bullets and metal casings. The barrel alone would have been enough to set off any metal detector. However, they did modify it such that the entire slide was steel, when that part used to be plastic.

        This was made famous by the “Glock 7” comment in Die Hard 2. It however wasn’t “porcelain”, they were made in Austria and not Germany, the model number didn’t exist, and one would easily set off a metal detector. Also – the movie had the leader of the bad guys walking through the airport on the way to his off-airport base, which made zero sense.

  5. You comment about Cuba is very offense and racist, your implying that Cubans are terrorists. When’s the last time you’ve heard of a Cuban terrorist arrested for trying to hijack a plane?

          1. She posted some really racists stuff on CNN, I wonder if her Disqus account was terminated and that if that happens it just changes her to guest.

          2. That happens when a Disqus account has been banned from posting to a specific website. All the posts and reply handles are then attributed to “Guest”.

            The comments haven’t been wiped. In and of themselves I don’t think they were offensive, but it’s obvious that it was trolling behavior.

    1. I reread the story and there is no mention of Cubans anywhere. There is a mention of Cuba but nothing that could be considered offensive.

        1. Mention of Cuba, but no Cubans. Seems like you might be operating under a flawed assumption that anyone who hijacked a plane to Cuba must be Cuban. Now that would be a racist and offensive position.

          1. Implying that hijackers only hijack to the country of their nationality is what makes no sense what so ever.

          2. So they just pick a country at random, in order to be arrested once they land there, you must be related to Einstien.

          3. Oh, I’m sure the country of destination is not chosen at random. Check outhttp://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Cuba_%E2%80%93_United_States_aircraft_hijackings#section_2. I counted 8 confirmed non-Cubans hijackings to Cuba. The facts kind of make your statement look really silly now, doesn’t it.

          4. The system didn’t keep the space between the word before the link and the link. Luckily for you it doesn’t take a genius to fix. Just remove the out before the http and it will work just fine.

          5. I reposted the link because the Disqus system wouldn’t open up the incorrect link even though it showed it as a link. And I know how to use a computer. Now go back under your bridge and read the link, if you have the ability to comprehend the big words, and let the adults talk.

          6. Your link if fine, thanks. OMG I didn’t know there was that many attempts to hijack a plane to Cuba.

  6. Forget they packed a loaded gun??????? You’ve got to be kidding! And the TSA is supposed to just smile and say …. That’s ok, we’ll just hold this for you. Hopefully, not on any plane I’m flying!

    1. In Christopher Ledford’s defense its not only legal but required by law to own a gun in his town, and both open carry and concealed carry is considered the norm there (look up Dent Myers) so I believe the Atlanta airport shouldn’t have arrested him for this, and allowed him to mail the gun back to himself.

        1. Yes, I know that, however since they are allowed basically everywhere, its more common and certainly more acceptable for one to be carried into a secure area.

          1. No they are not allowed “basically everywhere”. And why do you keep changing your name to “Guest”, Jolanda? We know it’s you.

          2. I think “Jolanda” has become persona non grata. Not sure if it’s a complete wipe of the Disqus handle for violation of their terms or if it’s just Chris banning a single Disqus account.

      1. I was going to say the same about the guy from Kennesaw. All residents are required by law to own firearms. For those who don’t believe, look it up on Wikipedia.

        1. Required to maintain a firearm. Does that mean carry it concealed inside the ATL airport and go through TSA. You know you can properly transport a firearm but concealing it or puting it inside your hand carry might get you in trouble.

  7. How is it that the NRA has not taken this to court, as an infringement of the gun owner’s 2nd amendment rights? Seems a case made just for their lawyers to take all the way to the hallowed 9 Supremes in Washington.

  8. If guns owners are so careless about the whereabouts of their guns that they don’t even know that they are carrying them, maybe they deserve to be former gun owners. This certainly doesn’t fit the definition of responsible gun ownership.

  9. What makes anyone think that if a terrorist wanted to get a weapon or weapons on board an airplane that he couldn’t do it? More and more people are getting passes on having to be screened and it would only take one of those to be bribed to conceal a weapon somewhere in the airport that the terrorist then picks up and takes on board. And, we are paying $8 billion a year to have our rights trampled on. I personally trust my fellow passengers 100 times more to thwart a potential terrorist than I do the TSA.

    1. Who is getting passes on being screened? Everyone still goes through security checkpoints (except for baggage handlers).

      1. Incorrect.

        At most airports pilots and now flight attendants enter through the exits with no screening whatsoever. None.

        In most airports airport employees access the “sterile” area through unmarked doors with no screening, and no one guarding the door, either.

        At the world’s busiest airport, all airport employees and all working Delta employees, and all American flight crews enter the “sterile” area through either one of 3 doors, or are driven directly onto the tarmac from several locations around town.

        The biggest threat in any industry is always the inside threat. And yet the TSA isn’t interested in screening ANY of those people AT ALL.

        Did you ever stop to ask why?

  10. a broken glass can make a very effective weapon. Many U.S. airlines now serve drinks in glass containers & cans which can be very effective weapons & what’s with the knives, so a certain knife is ok, but don’t be 1 cm too long

  11. about time you did away with the TSA completely. It’s totally useless & very expensive & doesn’t protect anything or anybody, if anything they give some sort of false sense of security.

  12. TSA spends so much time trying to find the things that will NOT bring down a plane, it’s no wonder that they so often miss the things that possibly could bring down a plane.

    So, instead, TSA obsesses on guns (and knives, and pot, and how much money people are carrying) to make themselves and everybody who supports them feel better about the terrible job they do.

  13. Yeah, the other day the TSA wouldn’t let me on the plane with two carboys of 12 molar sulfuric acid, sheesh. Next thing you know they won’t let you park your 727 (that you earned with the sweat of your brow) in a skyscraper anymore. Can anyone doubt freedom is over?

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