The Right to Bear Arms in Flight
Should the price of boarding an airline flight be laying down all your weapons? Should we all agree to be disarmed? "Better safe than dead," is the answer many give. But what is safe?
"Wouldn't you rather give up your gun so that all the bad people on the flight will have to give up theirs?" the authorities ask. This would perhaps make sense if we thought that the majority of the passengers are bad and are plotting to bring down the flight. But should we assume that? Aren't the terrorists a minority? And in that case, would it not be better to arm the majority?
If we arm everybody, then we also arm the terrorists. But if we disarm everybody, then we are handicapping every well intentioned person who could be of help in an emergency. To some extent, our answer to this question depends on how we view others.
When we board a flight, we are surrounded by strangers. Should we assume that everybody else is bad and only we are good? Will this achieve the optimal result, where safety is concerned? Or might it be better to believe in the goodness of our fellow man? It is an issue of trust.
Flight 93 Memorial
The Naked Versus Dead Thread
- Would You Rather Be Seen Naked By A Stranger Or Be Dead?
Would You Rather Be Seen Naked By A Stranger Or Be Dead? in the HubPages Politics & Social Issues Forum
Profiling and the In-Group
When my daughter was born, I was spending the summer in the US, but my permanent place of residence was Taiwan, where I held the position of associate professor at a local university. Getting ready for the new school year meant getting my daughter a passport, visa and eventually an alien resident certificate from the government of Taiwan. In September of 1999, when my daughter was less than two months old, I embarked on the first of many airline flights with an infant. I had never liked airline security, but the experiences that I was to have over the next two years were much worse than anything I had seen before.
Barely arrived at the airport in Chicago, my daughter tucked into my Infantino infant carrier strapped to my body, I encountered the first of many airport personnel who seemed to believe that babies were weapons of mass destruction or at the very least tiny bombs. They made me take off the carrier, and they insisted on searching my daughter and then completely dismantling the carrier, handing it to me in pieces and offering no assistance in putting it back together.
Over the next two years, almost every encounter with Amercian security personnel at airports was a nightmare. They would require me to pass through a security scan with the baby stroller in one place, but would insist the baby's bottle and formula and diapers had to go through a completely different scan someplace else. Or, just as I had gotten used to this procedure and had separated all the things that I carried in the stroller from the stroller itself, they suddenly decided that the stroller needed to go through the same scan as the formula, but my daughter and I were to go through a different scan. This unexpected change of procedure took place just at the time when my daughter was too heavy for me to carry any distance but not yet walking.
The worst of it was their attitude. You would think they had never seen a mother and a baby before. They never met my eyes. They were totally humorless, and I had heard that if I even attempted to crack a joke, I would be arrested. They acted as if they really thought that my baby and I posed a threat. They treated me like a bad person.
My father died in October of 2000, and I had to take time off to attend the memorial. The people at LAX were very ugly to me on our way in from Taiwan. Then in April of 2001, I had to go to Israel to help scatter my father's ashes. My daughter and I took a flight from Taipei to Bangkok, and the rest on the trip, from Bangkok to Tel Aviv was on El Al. This was the first time I had ever traveled to Israel from the East. I had not been to Israel since 1976.
The security personnel at the El Al check-in counter were dressed like soldiers. "Oh, great," I thought. "Now I'll have to go through a military interrogation." But here's where something quite miraculous happened. They talked to me. They smiled. They joked around. They let me know with every gesture that they knew I wasn't the enemy. Yes, there was going to be a delay and everybody's luggage from the previous flight would have to go through an x-ray scan. But that was just because we could never be too sure, because of "those other people." I could go get something to drink, they said. and they would call me when it was time to board. They didn't even ask to search the stroller and its contents.
It felt like coming home. They saw me. They recognized me. They knew I wasn't a terrorist. Why couldn't the Americans be like that?
At the time, I felt that Israelis were just nicer people. It took me a while to think it through. Would they have been this nice if I hadn't been Israeli? Had I just experienced what it's like to be a member of the in-group?
Treating Everyone Equally Badly
I have dual citizenship, American and Israeli. But as it happened, what I planned to do in Israel that spring was illegal. We were going to rent a private plane and scatter my father's ashes all over Palestine and the Sinai. It was his wish. And it was against the law. I had to lie to the security people in Eilat, but they gave me no problem, because they could just tell I wasn't a terrorist.
On the other hand, in all my other travels, the ones to and from the U.S., I wasn't doing anything illegal, and yet security treated me like a criminal. Did they do this because to them I looked like a terrorist? After all, I am from the middle east. I am short, dark and swarthy, and there is something distinctly foreign about me. Or did they do it because they had been instructed to treat everyone like a criminal? I'm not sure.
There is no way to tell an Israeli from a Palestinian by a visual inspection. There is no way to tell an Arab from an Israeli or a Palestinian from an Arab, just by looking at them. To tell the difference, you would have to talk to them, preferably in their own language and make a cultural assessment. But American security personnel have no inkling about such things. Most of them are monolingual English speakers. Of course, they could just check the passports, but they want to know more than where we come from. They want to know, presumably, what kind of people we are. And for security purposes, I think there are only two kinds of people: good ones and those who are not good. How can they tell? They can use their gut instinct, the way the Israelis do. Or they can treat everyone exactly the same.
Presumably, that's what American security personnel have been instructed to do. But even when treating all the same, there are two basic options. To treat everyone well. Or to treat everyone badly.
Officially, the American security position seems to be to mistrust everyone. No one is immune from scrutiny. Not the elderly. Not the handicapped. Not infants and children. The only ones who are above suspicion are the security people themselves.
Treating Everyone Equally Well
What would treating everyone well look like? It might mean not searching people for weapons at all. It might even mean encouraging all passengers to carry weapons so that, in case of an emergency, well armed individuals might help the authorities to stop wrongdoers on the spot.
If the American airport security policy had been to trust all, think how differently the events of September 11, 2001 might have unfolded.
The Example of Flight 93
The purpose of security checks is to confiscate all weapons. But in reality, anything can be used as a weapon, even our bare hands. And when all the easy-to-use weapons are removed, only the strong, the natural born killer and those with special paramilitary training stand a chance.
Listen to Leslie Fish's song on the story of United Flight 93. She tells it much better than I ever could. Except for four terrorists who were armed with box cutters and knives, everyone else on that flight was completely unarmed. The passengers and crew fought bravely till the bitter end to keep the plane from being used as a weapon against others. Think how much better they might have done, if they had had guns!
At the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, my daughter and I had finished with our travels. We were in Missouri, staying in a motel, and waiting to take possession of our new house. I swore to myself that I would never fly again. I wasn't afraid of terrorists. It was the airport security checks that had me terrified. The last time we flew in through LAX, I nearly lost my temper with one of the security people there. When I recalled the incident afterwards, I counted myself lucky that I had not done anything to get myself arrested. I really felt like punching someone out, and I am not normally a violent person. Those LA security people really do know how to push my buttons. I did not trust myself to ever go through security again. Several years passed before I did.
In 2007, I was invited by a fellow primatologist to attend an exclusive conference and to present my evidence about Bow. On the way to the conference they confiscated my shampoo. On the way back, they took my toothpaste away from me. However, I wasn't traveling with a baby anymore, and I was able to laugh it off.
I know that my pro-gun position may seem extreme to others, However, I am willing to compromise, in the interest of national security. Let's allow guns on board flights, but disallow bombs. Bombs, after all, are something intentionally destructive, used only by terrorists. But guns can be used to save lives. I might even be willing to give up my shampoo, provided that they let me carry a gun. After all, despite the concerns of security personnel in St. Louis, I don't actually know how to kill people using shampoo. But I'm a pretty good shot with a gun.
(c) 2010 Aya Katz
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