How to Solve Nothing

I’m not going to pretend that this bill proposed by my Senacritter, which would prohibit carrying a firearm in an airport outside of a screening area, represents some sort of apocalyptic infringement on Second Amendment rights.  Indeed, for the most part, I don’t really see much purpose for people to carry firearms into an airport if they’re not already packed up in a to-be-checked-suitcase, since that’s where the firearms are going to have to go in any event.  We’re talking about a bill that seeks to reduce the ability of firearms owners to, in essence, carry their weapons to the ticket counter or, in some instances, wait to pick someone up or give a quick kiss good-bye while carrying their gun.  I can’t imagine compliance with this being much more than trivial hassle for the average gunowner. 

Then again, I don’t really see much harm in allowing the average person to carry their guns into the non-secure parts of an airport, either.  It’s not like airports, at least before you get to the security gate, are all that different from other areas where significant numbers of people congregate, like shopping malls or parks.  It’s not exactly a setting where there’s an unusual amount of risk of an accidental discharge or of someone stealing someone else’s gun and going on a rampage with it. 

But of course, the rationale for this proposal is not a fear of what the average gun owner will do in an airport setting; it’s a fear of what a homicidal maniac can do in an airport setting.  The rationale, I suppose, is that the currently unsecured parts of an airport are more closely analogous to a courthouse or a federal building or (occasionally) a sports arena.  Ok, fair enough. 

One problem, though: how do you enforce this proposed law in a way that meaningfully reduces the risk from the rare whacko who wants to shoot up an airport?  In other words, how does this bill actually reduce the threat to which it is responding? 

If this bill were to pass, I am quite certain that the average gun-owner, in the overwhelming majority of cases, would take pains to comply with it.  But would we really expect any of those rare whack-jobs who want to shoot up an airport (or are even capable of it) to obey this law?  I am quite certain that the penalty for violating this law will be substantially less than the penalty for murder or attempted murder, and definitely less than the penalty for terrorism. 

So there’s obviously no deterrent effect that this law will have on people trying to kill other people in an airport setting.  But it could still be justified if it made it easier for law enforcement to stop people before they start opening fire.  There are two ways this could happen – but one could never accomplish anything, and the other….well, you be the judge.

The first way the law could hypothetically be meaningfully enforced is if it allowed police officers to stop someone after they entered the airport but before they went on their rampage.  The trouble with this is that, although airports as a whole are often huge, the target areas for any potential gunman before someone gets to the security checkpoints are just about always close to the airport entrance.  This gives law enforcement at most a few seconds to observe someone with a gun entering the building and apprehend them.  To say that this is unlikely would be a terrible understatement, to say the least. 

The second way actually could reduce the risk of an airport attack.  That way involves installing security checkpoints before you even enter the airport – before the ticket counters, before the baggage claim areas, and before the, uhh, security checkpoints.  Regardless of whether this is a good idea (it’s not), is this realistic?  I certainly can’t imagine that it’s what Lautenberg has in mind, but even if it were- is it a realistic solution?  To do so would require either that every person who enters an airport go through a security checkpoint, with every person going on a flight going through two security checkpoints, or that every single person going into the airport go through the exact same sort of checkpoint we currently go through if we’re flying, meaning that anyone with a bag to check would either have to use a Sky-Cap or make their checked baggage compliant with the rules for carry-on baggage (such as the infamous 3.5 ounce liquid rule), as would limo drivers, well-wishers, and greeters.  Needless to say, if air travel is to remain even moderately tolerable, neither of these outcomes is going to happen anytime soon. 

All of which means that this law will wind up preventing exactly zero bad guys from killing people.  It will prevent a substantial number of otherwise law-abiding people from taking guns into an airport, which achieves nothing one way or the other.  It will, however, almost certainly result in some number of innocent people getting nailed for absent-mindedly forgetting to leave their gun in the car while they go to greet or say good-bye to a loved one (and do we really want people leaving guns unattended in airport parking lots as a regular occurence anyhow?).

Assuming that the draconian enforcement measures I mentioned above don’t get implemented, this proposed law is, again, far from an apocalyptic infringement on Second Amendment rights or any rights at all, really.  But that doesn’t make it remotely the “common-sense” sort of legislation that the good Senator thinks it is.  It just makes it the sort of legislation that will get people punished for an occasional episode of absent-mindedness, guns left unattended in heavily used parking lots, and no risks reduced, even a little.  Common-sense, it would seem, isn’t so common.

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16 thoughts on “How to Solve Nothing

  1. i agree about this. This neither protects us nor is it constitutional sacrilege. Its a petty law. I’m sure NRA types will scream about how this is the first step towards ripping the guns out of their dead hands and all. But, and this is a side note, I am completely unsympathetic to the ” i just forgot i had a gun” argument. I also can’t believe any serious gun owner even makes it. Guns aren’t toys and are a serious responsibility, there not tic-tacs or a bic lighter. If you take guns seriously, then you dont’ get to forget about it.

    Lautenberg, geez is he like 83 now. I haven’t lived in Jersey for 15 years but i remember him being old back then.

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    • @greginak,
      [Barely, but wisely, resisting urge to comment on circumstances that returned Lautenberg to the Senate after he retired]
      It’s not so much that I’ve got sympathy for forgetting you’re carrying a gun as it is that I expect it’s going to happen, and in a situation where doing so poses no actual risk to anyone else. However, I can believe that a serious gun owner would make the argument, and having read some of the things I’ve read on forgetfulness over the last few years, I can envision even a fairly responsible gun owner doing it on an occasion where they’re stressed out and maybe in a hurry or whatever.
      Decent people have been known to have far more tragic fits of absent-mindedness than forgetting to leave their gun in the glove compartment.

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  2. I think the point of these kinds of laws is to give law enforcement the ability to search anyone acting suspiciously for weapons and then arrest them before something happens rather than have to negotiate if they might be carrying legally.

    Now, I am not particularly sympathetic to the argument since these laws seem to end up as tools for harassment more than public safety, plus I am not aware of an epidemic of threatened or actual gun violence at airports to necessitate federal legislation.

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  3. They tried standing on the Capitol Steps and singing “God Bless America” after 9/11.

    That sort of communicated the wrong thing. It said “holy crap, we have no idea what to do and no idea how to fix this, God help us” when it was intended to say “we’re all in this together and we’re on top of it.”

    They’ve learned their lesson. If they knew then what they know now, they’d have passed a law reiterating the prohibition against hijacking airplanes with a rider reiterating the prohibition against terrorism with a second rider giving Congresspeople a somewhat larger budget to hire secondary staff.

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  4. Laws like this are pretty much unenforceable on a wholesale basis. The only time thay are enforced is when someone is stopped for another reason and a violation is seen. For example, say someone who is carrying has a medical emergency. While he is receiving care, he may be subject to arrest or other action because he is violating such a law.

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  5. I’m glad to see that you’re providing a common-sense, sane counterpoint to any hysterical cries of wholesale violations of the Bill of Rights. After all, like you say, it just constitutes a “trivial hassle for the average gunowner.”

    But then, where is your common-sense, sane counterpoint to all the hysterical cries of wholesale violations of the Bill of Rights by opponents of the Arizona anti-illegal immigration law, saying its supporters, 70% of Arizonans and 60% of the nation, are displaying, e.g., an “overwhelming antipathy toward basic civil liberties,” (ED Kain dixit) so as not to call them “fascist”, “Nazi,” and the like, which would be, as we all know, a bit too low-class, thus the hypercorrect formulation by, e.g., ED Kain?

    As a thought experiment, try the following:

    I can’t imagine compliance with this being much more than trivial hassle for the average gunowner.

    I can’t imagine compliance with this being much more than trivial hassle for the average gunowner legal Hispanic immigrant or Hispanic citizen.

    If this bill were to pass, I am quite certain that the average gun-owner, in the overwhelming majority of cases, would take pains to comply with it.

    If this bill were to pass is enforced, I am quite certain that the average gun-owner legal hispanic immigrant or hispanic citizen, in the overwhelming majority of cases, would take pains to comply with it.

    How, exactly, are these situations so different as to warrant, in the case of the Arizona law, cries of “apocalyptic infringement” of human rights and in the case of airport gun-control laws, the common-sense, fair, and sane judgement that it is “far from an apocalyptic infringement?”

    Just asking…

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      • @Mark Thompson, Sorry, I missed that. I guess that I wasn’t talking about you. I must have confused you with others on this blog who do take the “apocalyptic infringement” line on the Arizona law. But what about them, e.g., ED Kain and his ilk? Do they oppose the airport gun-control law as an “apocalyptic infringment” of basic human rights, in accordance with their views on the Arizona law, which are certainly parallel situations? Or do they support it, as a needed but unpleasant security measure? In other words, do these people have any principles beyond group-think, or anti-group think (in the case of ED Kain)?

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        • @Roque Nuevo, yeah, I’m the guy running around yelling “papers, please”.

          My take is, as you see, a handful of posts up.

          I don’t see this as an exercise of government power anywhere near as much as a communication on the part of the government that they don’t know what or how to do jack schitt.

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  6. I agree that the law is pointless, yet not a wholesale violation of gun rights. However, that isn’t a sufficient defense of the unintended cost of such a stupid law. Training, enforcement, educating the population, etc. I believe the bigger concern for small gov’t types is that no one even takes those things into consideration when voting on something so stupid. It just makes a good sound bite for poly-tics to say “I voted to make airports safer”. Really, they just voted to add training requirements to police and security officers at airports and pissed off the NRA. It is such a waste on so many levels. My issue (I am probably considered a gun nut by most folks btw) is that the people vote for these politicians exactly because they enact such totally unenforceable laws. How is that possible? I think that across the political spectrum this can be seen as a horrible law, so who, of the voting public, thinks otherwise? Are people that ignorant that they believe that this kind of law was a necessity. Do people believe this will actually make airports safer? If not, then what is the motivation to elect politicians who create such laws? I am at a loss.

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  7. I’d be quite interested to hear your take, Mark, on the meaning of the Second in 1789, and today. Why they wanted it; why we still want it.

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