TSA right to ignore pocket knives

The Washington PostMarch 14, 2013 

Knives on planes: Can the Transportation Security Administration be serious?

That has been the reaction of some members of Congress to the announcement that it will loosen restrictions on what passengers can carry aboard airliners. Next month, federal airport screeners will no longer force you to surrender hockey sticks, golf clubs, toy baseball bats, or pocketknives as long as the blades don't lock in place and aren't too long.

In fact, it makes sense for TSA agents to be looking for bombs that could bring down a plane, not scouring luggage for penknives. The agency is not and cannot be in the business of protecting every passenger and crew member from every conceivable threat. If it tried, it would have to ban a lot more than knives, and its effort would cost far more money, gobble up more of passengers' already overbooked airport time or both.

Instead, government resources and travelers' time should be spent with a sense of priority. Airplanes pose unique dangers that justify the frustration that comes with airport screening. Terrorists have committed mass murder by using planes as weapons, In the post-Sept. 11 era of reinforced cockpit doors, savvy passengers, a more robust air marshal program and flight attendants trained in self-defense, allowing penknives onto planes would not result in such tragedies.

The change would, however, lead to less hassle for the tourist who forgot to take her knife off her key ring and less wasted time for the screener who must do the hassling. Opponents charge that instead of just confiscating knives, TSA agents might have to measure blade lengths. Yet if X-ray screeners were allowed simply to let items that are obviously pocketknives pass through, that would result in fewer secondary bag inspections.

The TSA, meanwhile, says that the screening process has gotten more efficient since it started allowing small scissors and knitting needles aboard in 2005 and lighters onto planes in 2007.

Some also wonder why passengers should be allowed to carry knives on planes when they still have to take off their shoes for X-ray screening. But terrorists can and have fit improvised explosive devices into shoes. They could combine certain liquids in an airline cabin and cause a disaster.

Instead of pouncing on the rules change, lawmakers should press the agency to continue building a flexible and focused security system capable of blocking big and unexpected threats.

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