The federal airline security folks get more grounded.

Military analysis.
May 1 2002 5:52 PM

Free To Tweeze

The federal airline security folks get more grounded.

On April 30, shortly after this column excoriated the Transportation Security Administration for its obtuseness about feasible hijack weapons, the agency issued a new list of banned carry-on items. Thankfully the list still includes automatic weapons (legal firearms can still be transported in checked baggage provided they are unloaded and reported to the airline), hand grenades, blasting caps, shotguns, and tear gas. But—in a small victory for the splinter-prone and the hairy—it no longer includes tweezers, which, I pointed out, fail the following bright-line test for a viable hijack weapon: not just potentially dangerous but obviously dangerous to more than one person at a time. (We should interpret "potentially" here to include "apparently" so as to make sense of banning realistic toy or replica weapons, as the TSA's list does.)

Incidentally, some readers were mistaken in thinking that this criterion treats box-cutters as benign. While it's true that one cannot cut two different people at the very same moment with a single box cutter—or, for that matter, shoot two different people not lined up at the very same moment with a single gun—one can use a box cutter or a gun to kill or wound two or more people right quick, which is why both can be used to control a large number of people, and why both should be banned.

Does the new development mean that the TSA now really understands this bright line? I doubt it. The new list still bans corkscrews but not wine bottles, and penknives but not pens. Since none of these items represents a plausible hijacking threat, the agency's rethinking still has a way to go.

And no, I am under no illusions that my discussion influenced the tweezer turnaround, which I'm sure required something much more deadly than any personal grooming implement—months and months of meetings and memos.

Scott Shuger is a Slate senior writer who spent five years in the U.S. Navy and served overseas as an intelligence officer.