Archived Story

Pen is mightier than the pocketknife

Published 10:40am Saturday, March 9, 2013

For once, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has made a rule that will make it easer for some of us to fly. It has announced that after April 25, it’s OK to carry a small pocketknife on U.S. airplanes.

Over the past decade, I bet I’ve donated more than a dozen pocket knives to our government. Call me a Boy Scout, but I’ve got several items that I carry wherever I go, including a Swiss Army pocket knife and a Photon micro flashlight. Both are on my keychain, they cost around $15 each and I really don’t feel dressed without them. That tiny set of gear weighs almost nothing, but I’ve used the flashlight many times to walk miles out of the woods and the tweezers, knife blade, scissors, fingernail file and toothpick on my classic 2 ¼” Victornox pocket knife are put into service on a daily basis. I often forget to take my knife off my keychain and put it in a checked bag before I get in the security line at the airport … and end up surrendering my pocketknife to a guy in a TSA uniform.

Sometimes the TSA guys look apologetic; other times an icy stare can make me feel like a hardened criminal.

I’m not the only one who has made pocketknife donations to Uncle Sam. I read somewhere that four tons of knives are confiscated every month in the 20 largest U.S. airports.

Under the new TSA rules, carry-on pocket knives are tightly defined. The blade can only be 2.36 inches in length and half an inch wide. The knives must be folders – no fixed blades – and the folding blades can’t have a lock on them that effectively transforms them into a fixed blade. A molded grip is also outlawed. So are razor blades and box cutters.

John Pistole, the chief of the TSA, says the changes fall within his “risk-based security approach” and also follow the rule of international flights, which do allow pocketknives onboard. Former TSA Chief Kip Hawley went a little further, saying, “Battle axes, machetes, bring anything you want that is pointy and sharp because while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. It’s as simple as that.”

Today, the people charged with flying commercial airplanes sit behind bulletproof cockpit doors that are locked when the plane is in operation. Pilots are armed and undercover pistol-toting air marshals are often seated among the passengers. A pocketknife just is not going to bring down an airplane, no matter what you do with it.

Nonetheless, flight crews and U.S. air marshals have protested the changes. Capt. James Ray, a spokesman for 4,000 US Airways pilots, said, “We cannot support any policy that compromises the safety of our passengers. Pilots have a bulletproof door that stands between us and the passengers. The flight attendants have nothing.”

I understand the concern, especially when it’s still against the rules to carry on a bottle of water (which could be a bottle of liquid explosives). But it’s an exaggeration to call a small, non-locking knife a “weapon.” If you try to cut somebody with it, you’re very likely to cut yourself – in a scuffle, the sharp edge of the blade is sure to fold over your fingers.

People who are trained in personal defense and to attack other people (the distinction is who swings first) could choose from much more lethal tools that have always been allowed as carry-on items.

If you think I’m exaggerating, google “tactical pen” and you’ll have your eyes opened. Today many weapon manufacturers have a line of machine-tooled metal pens designed to stab people. Columbia River Knife & Tool, Inc. (CRKT) manufactures a couple of 6-inch stylish “writing instruments” designed by former military men with marshal arts experience. The CRKT Tao Tactical Pen is advertised thusly: “… the pen point may be thrust for penetration in soft tissues of the throat, chest or abdomen with potentially lethal results if the assailant does not break off the attack.”

With a minimal amount of searching online, you’ll find pens made by other companies like Smith & Wesson, UZI, Colt, Surefire, Boker and Benchmade that definitely did not make their reputations manufacturing communication tools.

What you won’t find is any small pocket knife approved by the TSA billed as a lethal weapon – because they are not lethal weapons.

And the TSA is right to reverse its rule against carrying them on a plane.

I’d suggest nervous flight crews reconsider their choice of writing instruments.

Boone is publisher of The Outlook.