The Right to Bear Pocket Knives

The following is a special message from American Security Theatre (AST), a group that seeks a dramatic reversal of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policies.

37DD5A18-6368-49A2-90D5-87391BB3E8B4.jpgWe hereby petition the incoming Obama administration for a modest change, an immediate change that would signal a new direction for air travelers, a new freedom for frequent fliers. Here it is: recognize the need of Americans in the friendly skies to bear tools that fit in their pocket, by which we mean the ever-so useful pocket knife, also known by its brand names, the Swiss Army Knife and the Leatherman Multi-tool.

Ever since 9/11, pocket knives and their owners have been separated at airport security checkpoints everywhere, never to be reunited. According to the TSA, knives are prohibited, except "for plastic or round bladed butter knives." Who carries a butter knife in his or her pocket or purse? The TSA's unhelpful "Summer Travel Tips" says: "Pocket knives, self-defense sprays and other potential weapons are also prohibited." What a huge misunderstanding! Pocket knives are tools. If you consider them to be weapons, certainly they are Weapons of minimal Destruction (WmD).

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Talk about sweating the small stuff, missing the forest for the trees, looking for love in all the wrong places. If pocket knifes are prohibited, why are nail clippers and corkscrews allowed? Why not allow an all-in-one pocket knife, which best prepares a person for any emergency? Especially, what with emergencies on the rise!

We can bring screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers under seven inches on planes but not 3-inch pocket knives. Hammers and saws are not allowed, nor are cattle prods but none of these fit in your pocket. We don't seek permission to bring an entire toolchest but we need to go places with all the tools that a good pocket knife provides. Scissors and knitting needles were once confiscated but they are now permitted. The TSA could re-classify any of these humble items as potential weapons or as useful, personal tools.

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So, on behalf of readers of Make magazine, I submit this petition with high hopes that the new administration will hear our plea. Many of us have been carrying Make's imposing Warranty Voider, a branded Leatherman Squirt, and we're losing them to the TSA. The prohibition seems absurd. We should be well-equipped when we travel.

On a recent trip, I had to buy safety razor blades and batteries, and back in my hotel room I found myself in a struggle with clamshell packaging that would not submit to fingernails and teeth. I regretted not having my pocket knife handy. No, I was mad that my pocket knife was unable to join me on my trip. Then, I had a flashback to when I went through airport security, where an elderly man was pulled aside by the TSA because attached to his keychain was a small pocket knife. Obviously, he had not reviewed the list of prohibited items. The poor man was upset at first; he did not understand that he had to remove the pocket knife from his keychain. This was hard enough for him to do but he couldn't believe that he also had to turn the pocket knife over to the TSA -- for keeps -- when he finished the task. He asked the TSA why they needed his pocket knife and the uninformed officer was unable to give him a satisfying answer. I thought to myself, pitifully, that I was glad I had not accidently brought along my pitiful pocket knife. In my hotel room, I felt bad that I had not responded with more empathy to my fellow travelers plight. Maybe I should spoken up then and there.

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All I could think of was that another confiscated penknife was destined for Ebay, an abundance of utility without a home. How sad! You'd think the TSA would have the good sense to re-distribute the pocket knives to the truly needy.

The TSA prides itself on trapping innocent people. Here's a story found on the TSA site from April of this year.

On the morning of April 16, security officers in Wisconsin discovered a 4.5-inch knife hidden inside a Barbie doll box in a passenger's carry-on bag. When the passenger was questioned, he said that he forgot which Barbie doll box he put the knife in and thought the box with the knife was in his checked luggage.

The passenger surrendered the knife, but had to re=book on another flight.

Should we be proud of the TSA for exposing a Wisconsin man's Barbie doll fetish and making him "surrender" his knife? I mean, the guy's from Wisconsin and he's surrendering. President-elect Obama should be sensitive to the idea that Americans shouldn't be surrendering to other Americans. We are not our own enemy.

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It's too bad Inauguration Day doesn't come earlier so that we could get this change in place for the busy holiday travel season. There's also another item on the list of prohibited items that's going to bring huge disappointment for the holidays: would you believe, Santa, that the TSA won't allow Americans to travel with snow globes in their carry-ons?

Another point to be made, although not as sharp as the others, is that many people have successfully carried pocket knifes through security without detection. Most of the time it is unintentional but they are surprised to find that the TSA didn't notice. A lot of prohibited items are not caught. I hear people bragging that water bottles go through just fine in the pockets of cargo pants. I now know that I can forget pulling out my personal toiletries, even those over 3 oz., because they go through in my carry-on without detection. I've come to rely on it. The TSA doesn't seem to notice. It's only when you're honest and declare that -- oops -- you've discovered a pocket knife on your person or in your carry-on, only then do you lose it. That's not a way to keep people honest.

So, if this tiny change is too much to ask, if we haven't made the case that pocket knives are safe and essential everyday personal items, indeed tools just like combs and toothbrushes, or like cellphones, consider quietly crafting a compromise whereby the TSA agrees that when a pocket knife passes through, the uninformed officers intentionally ignore it. Let's apply a "don't tell, don't ask" policy. I won't tell a TSA officer that I have brought my pocket knife with me and an officer won't ask me if I have one.


The new president won't even have to make this policy public but he can let us know. President Obama can give us a "wink-wink" when he names the new head of the TSA and we'll know that old policy is on its way out with Michael Chertoff and Kip Hawley. The AST thanks you in advance.