What’s in an inch? More to the point, what’s in 2.36 inches by 0.5 inches? The Transportation Safety Administration has proposed allowing airline passengers to carry certain small knives with them in the passenger cabin, as long as their blades are no larger than the ‘magic numbers’ of 2.36 inches by 1/2 inch. Clearly this 3-inch Kershaw Beacon doesn’t cut the mustard, although it cuts a lot of other things.
As a person who used to always carry a pocketknife everywhere, including airline flights, I’m all in favor of bringing some common sense back to air safety rules. Knives were not considered an airline security threat before 9/11, because they had never been used to commit mass mayhem on board an aircraft.
That all changed on 9/11, whose hijackers were only successful because of the passivity of the crew and passengers who believed they were being hijacked for ransom. Airline passengers will never make that mistake again, as several attempted hijackings and bombings have proven. Going aggro on a jetliner is now a very quick way to get yourself beaten senseless and duct-taped into your seat.
The proposed new rules would allow small blades in aircraft cabins, provided that they:
1. Are not fixed blades (whatever);
2. Not locking blades (shucks);
3. Aren’t box cutters (too symbolic); and
3. Don’t have molded handles (huh?)
These proposed new rules are a step in the right direction, but some parts of them still strike me as Feel-Good Security Theater because they have rather little to do with actual lethality.
Predictably, airlines and air crew are protesting these proposed rules, complaining that they’ll turn the skies red with the blood of innocent passengers and cabin crew.
Me? I’m on the other side of the fence: I don’t think these new rules go far enough.
Blade Size Limits
I can understand limiting the length of blades on airliners, because shorter blades are less lethal than longer blades under most circumstances. Large combat knives are probably bad for pressurized aircraft cabins because a suicidal hijacker could use the long, sturdy blades to breach a cabin window. (Something the TSA seems not to have considered in proposing to allow golf clubs and small bats on board…)
But we’re talking about knives here, and there’s a fuzzy continuum of lethality between a Victorinox Solitaire and a Gerber Mk II, and I’d be really interested to learn how the TSA arrived at the ‘magic number’ of 2.36 inches long by 0.5 inches wide. After all, human neck arteries are barely an inch under the skin, and well within reach of a 2.36 inch blade. Hell, they’re within reach of a ballpoint pen if the attacker is savage enough.
So where did these magic dimensions come from? Like most mysterious and ineffectual human decisions, I strongly suspect that a committee of some sort is responsible.
No Fixed/Locking Blades
We’re starting to get a little bit silly here. A bad guy is more likely to cut his own fingers if he’s careless with a non-locking Swiss Army knife, but what terrorist or lunatic is going to be stopped in their tracks by a cut finger?
If our hypothetical bad guy doesn’t want to cut his own finger, it’s a pretty simple matter to grind off the cutting edge closest to the handle and wrap the dull part in duct tape to protect your finger. Even thusly modified, a small pocketknife is hardly a fearsome offensive weapon.
Short-bladed lockbacks would be essentially useless for trying to punch through an aircraft window, because of the multiple panes that would have to be penetrated.
No Molded Handles
This rule goes way beyond ‘a little bit silly’ because it specifies a cosmetic feature that has sweet F-A to do with lethality. Well-textured handles can provide a more secure grip than finger grooves, yet rubberized grips are not prohibited.
Because they don’t look scary. The new rules don’t ban lethal knives, they only ban scary-looking knives, and this is classic Feel-Good Security Theater.
No Box Cutters
I’m not just making this up about box cutters being too symbolic: TSA spokesman David Castelveter admitted that they will remain prohibited because there’s ‘too much emotion’ associated with them.
Emotions should not govern public policy. The emotional compulsion to ‘ban the instrumentalities of the most recent outrage’ is typical of reactionary hoplophobes. The federal Switchblade Act was passed not too long after West Side Story was released (and probably saved exactly nobody in more than 50 years) and we all see what’s happened to AR-15s after Newtown.
The proper question should be how useless would this knife be in slaughtering passengers or taking control of the aircraft?
If the answer is ‘pretty darn useless’ then it’s not a threat to aircraft security and it shouldn’t be prohibited. If the answer is ‘that could bring down the plane’ or ‘that looks like something Toshiro Mifune carried in Yojimbo‘ then it belongs on the ground or in the baggage compartment.