The Failure of Airport Gun Screening

Shelby Murdoc

November 15, 2017 — A recent report reveals that airport security failed to catch over 70 percent of the weapons that testers attempted to sneak through TSA checkpoints. While anyone who has been inconvenienced by the lines and hassle of airport screening should be outraged at this incompetence, we should also be asking what this staggering failure means for strict gun control proposals.

If a federal agency charged with one mission—keeping airline travel safe and secure—cannot manage to find weapons at a very carefully controlled checkpoint, how can anyone hope to ensure a truly gun-free environment?

Despite the news that the TSA is on pace to seize a record number of guns at airport checkpoints in 2017, an undercover operation managed to get between 70 and 80 percent of its weapons through security. Over 3,000 firearms had been confiscated by the TSA as of early October, a rate which will break 2016’s record of 3,391. If the 70 percent failure rate from the test holds, it suggests that about 10,000 guns have been carried on planes so far this year.

That is not what I call gun control.

Personally, I can barely wrap my mind around the idea that someone carrying a gun is more than two-thirds likely to get it through airport security. It doesn’t even seem remotely possible. But these results are, if you can imagine, a marked improvement over similar testing done in 2015 which managed to get 95 percent of its weapons through the checkpoints.

Honestly, that’s barely any more effective than the old days of the clerk at the counter asking if you were carrying any banned items in your bags.

Airports are tightly-controlled environments. Security presence is not only visible, it’s onerous. It is in your face. It practically tries to intimidate passengers into compliance, and it’s armed to the teeth so that problems in the terminal can be terminated with extreme prejudice. Additionally, very few people will argue against the need for strict airport security. Decades of hijacking and, of course, the terrorist plot on 9/11, have made the question of weapon-free airplanes a no-brainer.

But if the enforcement of gun-free zones in America’s airports is so shoddy even when administered by a massive Federal agency and billions of dollars in funding, how can anyone expect more stringent controls on weapons on everyday American streets to be effective in any meaningful way?

The TSA’s response to criticisms of its poor test results is, predictably, that they need more funding for more technology. The multi-billion-dollar agency doing work that almost everyone is in favor of needs more stuff to keep guns off of airplanes. What’s the local police department supposed to do at a concert venue? At the Friday night high school football game? On the corner of 3rd Street and Washington Avenue? Advanced 3D-imaging scanners like the TSA says they need?

Even if such technology were feasible and affordable, would citizens be willing to walk through scanners, take off their shoes, submit to constant bag checks, and allow themselves to be pulled aside for a frisking if something seemed a little off?

Gun owners have long been critical of the concept of “gun-free zones,” because they rightly understand that laws only apply to law-abiders. Posting a “no-guns” sign at a hotel entrance will stop the people that we don’t need to worry about while doing nothing to stop anyone who means to cause harm. A “no-guns” sign does nothing more than make sure that potential victims are unarmed and unable to fight back against potential criminals.

If airport checkpoints, with millions of dollars of intrusive high-tech and a quasi-military police presence at every turn cannot stop even a third of weapons from getting onto a very controlled setting like an airliner, how on earth does anyone expect “gun-free” environments to exist in the rest of the country?

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