For decades, it has been illegal to carry firearms on board an airplane. Long before 9/11, it was common wisdom that armed passengers presented a threat to aviation security. Today, carry-on rules are much stricter, but Homeland Security Today recently reportedthat there is an alarming trend of airline passengers attempting to take their handguns on board, either in carry-on luggage or their person. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confiscated 1,543 handguns at airport checkpoints, and if the current numbers hold, there will be more than that many in 2013.

In a time when water bottles must be tossed before the checkpoint, why anyone would think they can bring a handgun on a plane is mystifying. Bullets can puncture cabin walls, and they can kill. A handgun is a lethal weapon that presents a real threat to aviation security. While TSA is busy looking for these genuine threats, as well as explosives and other lethal items that could cause a plane crash or facilitate a hijacking, they are also spending valuable time and attention looking for a comparatively harmless item – penknives.

Earlier this year, TSA announced it would remove penknives, as well as some sporting equipment, from the banned item list. The reason, TSA Administrator John Pistole told Congress in March, was to keep checkpoint screeners focused on legitimate threats that could cause a plane to crash or put it in the hands of terrorists. Makes sense – TSA is a counterterrorism organization professing a risk-based security methodology. Ask yourself, which presents a greater risk – handguns and explosives or penknives? But then, out a preponderance of self-interest, numerous groups banded together to protest this rule change. Legislators joined in, and TSA backed down.

The penknife debacle was a complete failure for U.S. aviation security, blame for which can be rested at the feet of all involved. Here is a piece I wrote for Defense Media Network about who is to blame and why keeping penknives on the banned item list is not a victory anyone should celebrate.

Opponents of TSA Penknives Rule Win, Aviation Security Loses

Earlier this year, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced it would remove penknives and some sporting equipment from the banned items list for airport checkpoints. Almost immediately, there was widespread outcry against what some saw as an irresponsible decision. Despite mountains of risk-based logic, TSA was unable to stem the tide of public dissent. Rather than stick to what was a sound counterterrorism decision, they caved, and penknives will remain on the banned item list.

For those who opposed the new rule, this may look like a victory, but it is in fact a failure for the country. Public fear has forced TSA to stick with a policy that does not make flying safer, and in some ways, it is a victory for the terrorists targeting the U.S. aviation system.

In short, keeping pen knives on the banned list does not improve security, does not keep all knives out of the sky and does not contribute to TSA’s overarching mission of preventing “catastrophic failure” of the kind seen on 9/11. Instead, it keeps checkpoint screeners from focusing more attention on looking for truly dangerous items, such as explosives. No matter how you cut it, backing down on the knife rule was a complete failure. Everyone involved shares in the blame.

Read the full article.

Justin Hienz is Editor for Security Debrief. He blogs primarily on radicalization, aviation security, religious and Middle Eastern affairs, and communications. Read More