Stabbing People with Stuff You Can Get Through Airport Security

"Use of a pig model to demonstrate vulnerability of major neck vessels to inflicted trauma from common household items," from the American Journal of Forensic Medical Pathology.

Abstract. Commonly available items including a ball point pen, a plastic knife, a broken wine bottle, and a broken wine glass were used to inflict stab and incised wounds to the necks of 3 previously euthanized Large White pigs. With relative ease, these items could be inserted into the necks of the pigs next to the jugular veins and carotid arteries. Despite precautions against the carrying of metal objects such as knives and nail files on board domestic and international flights, objects are still available within aircraft cabins that could be used to inflict serious and potentially life-threatening injuries. If airport and aircraft security measures are to be consistently applied, then consideration should be given to removing items such as glass bottles and glass drinking vessels. However, given the results of a relatively uncomplicated modification of a plastic knife, it may not be possible to remove all dangerous objects from aircraft. Security systems may therefore need to focus on measures such as increased surveillance of passenger behavior, rather than on attempting to eliminate every object that may serve as a potential weapon.

Posted on November 19, 2009 at 7:10 AM • 93 Comments

Comments

BenNovember 19, 2009 7:26 AM

I'm expecting an announcement from the Guvmint that pigs will be banned from carry on luggage in future, or at least will have to be carried on in a transparent plastic bag. We'll all be much safer as a result I should think.

Wes PNovember 19, 2009 7:34 AM

Might I remind, that for a ninja, or Chuck Norris if you prefer, all one needs is a single finger to cause the same kind damage a gun or knife could. All the banning of guns, knives and like on planes does is prevent those with less skill from easily taking over or causing havok.

So it would seem to me, then, that the proper course of action is to require that ALL passengers be put into straight jackets for the flight.

RogerGSNovember 19, 2009 7:38 AM

I was allowed to carry sharp scissors onto a plane this summer. The TSA drone saw them in my carry-on, took them behind the scenes to apply the magic TSA ruler, deemed them of (only just) less than 4 inches blade length and therefore OK.

Forget ballpoints, I could have seriously put a hurting on a pig with those.

MarqNovember 19, 2009 7:52 AM

Best thing to do is introduce a sleeping agent into the air flow. Everybody falls asleep at takeoff and wakes up as you land... You'll be well rested, and won't have to count the tedious hours on longhaul journeys :-)

ytNovember 19, 2009 7:55 AM

A couple of years ago, I flew through the UK to the USA. At check-in for my transatlantic flight, I was asked whether I was carrying anything that could be used as or mistaken for a weapon.

What I was thinking: A pair of boot laces, a ballpoint pen, a glass vase, and a scarf.

What I said: No.

Trained ProfessionalNovember 19, 2009 8:00 AM

I could kill you with my bare hands.

Reductio-ab-absurdum implies I should have to have them amputed before being allowed to board...

jacobNovember 19, 2009 8:16 AM

This is getting silly. What now? We walk through security naked and get on plane naked? Wait...No one with martial arts training can board a plane.

Seriously, you can not protect from every possible scenerio. Security Theator as Mr. Schneier would say.

KevinNovember 19, 2009 8:17 AM

"Might I remind, that for a ninja, or Chuck Norris if you prefer, all one needs is a single finger..."

I thought that the TSA had already banned Chuck Norris from flights as a dangerous weapon?

AlNovember 19, 2009 8:20 AM

What problem are they trying to solve?

Do they want to prevent nut jobs taking over/down a plane? Or do they want to prevent ALL crime in an airport/plane.

KNovember 19, 2009 8:25 AM

As I was going through security on Manchester Airport this weekend it amused me somewhat that they asked me whether or not I carried any weapons.
Surely, I wasn't the only person of 16k spectators in town to see UFC 105 that had a martial art background. ;)

Nomen PublicusNovember 19, 2009 8:28 AM

Until I hear it reported that all luggage theft in airports has ended I shall consider all so called security measures as pure theatre.

Seriously, if an airport cannot look after a few bags, what chance have they against terrorists?

TordrNovember 19, 2009 8:35 AM

@Al "What problem are they trying to solve?"

As the paper referenced in this post and as we all know they are not trying to solve the problem of protecting us against terrorists.

So my guess is that they are trying to solve the problem of not getting sued for doing nothing, and putting up a good security theatre so it looks like they are doing something to the ignorant public. (Security theatre was fun the first time, but it becomes boring when you have seen it 10 or 100 times)

Does anyone else have a better guess?

ZorroNovember 19, 2009 9:05 AM


Curious thing: Going down to the range with my NRA buddies, nobody ever carjacks us. We hear of folks going on shooting sprees at schools. But never at an NRA meeting. Even the recent tragedy at that military base was directed against forcibly disarmed people.

Seems like there's not a lot of safety in being in a no-weapons zone. They just become kill-zones for bad guys where nobody can fight back effectively.

I'm not saying arm everyone. But... Waiting for a bus downtown, in a bad neighborhood, at 11pm at night, you'd think that would be unsafe. Yet there's a dozen of us waiting there. This is an easy state to obtain a concealed-carry permit. (Just don't be a criminal, mentally insane, or a danger to others.) It's a sure bet that someone in the crowd is carrying. Nobody knows who.

That's the essence of concealed carry. You can't tell. You REALLY can't tell! Any person carrying has spent a great deal of money on their equipment. They want to keep their permit. So they're going out of their way to be polite, de-escalate any situation, and hide their weapon.

But if anyone starts trouble... Well that poor mugger can't look everywhere at once. We'll all be just fine. He won't. The result is it's very safe in the crowd. (Just don't wander off alone!)

Contrast that to our airport security rules. They don't enhance security. They just kill business. I know a great many people, myself included, who now drive.

(Though in all fairness there are bigger problem here: Airlines are treating their customers like crap. The bogus security inconveniences are just icing on the cake. Perhaps even desirable icing as executives can hold "TSA-security" up as a scapegoat rather than addressing or even acknowledging their own company's shortcomings.)

Now I'm not saying arm everyone. Or give everyone a gun on a plane. Just lock the cockpit door. Keep scanning for explosives of course. Let people carry knives or stun-guns or tazers or whatever else they want -- excluding explosives and poisons. And make an announcement at the start of the flight that, in the event of a terrorist attack, the plane would be landing at the nearest airport. That everyone in the back would be on their own. The passengers are many. The terrorists are few. Live or die, it's up to you.

It shouldn't take more than one or two examples of lynch-mob justice to permanently end terrorism.

KingSnakeNovember 19, 2009 9:13 AM

*PLEASE* ban carry on luggage. Please! It would make the flight much more pleasant for the rest of us ...

FPNovember 19, 2009 9:27 AM

Zorro, while your observation that people that carry a concealed weapon are more polite might be true generally, I'm sure that there are many cases to the opposite.

But I disagree with your belief that "if anyone starts trouble" it helps to pull out a gun and point it at the troublemaker. I'm glad that the police receive training on when to pull and in what circumstances to use a firearm. I don't want random strangers firing bullets at the first sign of what they perceive to be "trouble."

MarcNovember 19, 2009 9:27 AM

Well you could resort to a broken wine bottle, on the rare chance your knife does not make it by security.

SpiderNovember 19, 2009 9:43 AM

Part of the idea of carrying a concieled weapon on board is to allow you to scare people. You need to threaten people with an object that they know or strongly suspect will hurt them. Using an object that most people would not consider being a good weapon, would lead to a higher likelyhood of people fighting back.

So, despite the real lethality of the weapons, its still sort of in in the interest of security to remove the obvious items people will fear.

rogueNovember 19, 2009 10:03 AM

spider echoes the hollywood concept that a gun is a conversation piece to hold while winning an arguement.
Never threaten anyone with a gun,
Never point a gun at anyone unless you intend to shoot them
and so if you feel its necessary to pull the gun, empty it in the target then start the conversation with them.

MailmanNovember 19, 2009 10:07 AM

"Waiting for a bus downtown, in a bad neighborhood, at 11pm at night, you'd think that would be unsafe. Yet there's a dozen of us waiting there."

Guns have nothing to do with your safety in this case. The number of the group has. Try repeating the experiment alone.

Trevor StoneNovember 19, 2009 10:10 AM

If you're strong enough, you can smother someone with a complimentary pillow.


Zorro says "It shouldn't take more than one or two examples of lynch-mob justice to permanently end terrorism." He doesn't seem to grok the motivations and machinations of suicide terrorism. After 9/11, innocent people who "looked" Muslim received lynch-mob "justice." This put a lot of fear into law-abiding Muslims, but didn't stop Al Qaida one bit.

Grande MochaNovember 19, 2009 10:17 AM

@Zorro, gunless, and FP

I believe that Zorro makes a valid point, however examples of both extremes exist.

The Anti-weapons case:
In Somalia, for example, you can be as heavily armed as you wish, but you probably won't be very safe.

The Pro-weapons case:
In Switzerland, most of the populace is well armed (and trained in firearm use!), yet the crime rate is extremely low.

This suggests, at least to me, that the problem of safety has more to do with the social cohesion of the culture rather than the availability of weapons. I believe that is a point that Bruce has made numerous times: there is no point in trying to take away every weapon from every person (on a plane or anywhere else). The most effective way to create safety is to create an environment where most people are happy enough that they have no motivation to resort to violence.

Yes, in any society, there will always be the occasional sociopath resorting to violence. However, what we have seen time and time again (with Columbine, the Virginia Tech incident, and this latest Fort Hood shooting) is that people who knew the perpetrators saw it coming.

So, the solution to reducing violence is somewhat straightforward (although expensive and politically unpopular): 1. Political/economic policies which don't disenfranchise large segments of humanity, and 2. Develop active social programs which identify and assist those mentally or socially maladjusted individuals who may otherwise become violent.

SpiderNovember 19, 2009 10:19 AM

@rogue

That's sort of what the 9/11 guys did right, they didn't harm or maim many people just threatened them with the box cutters to get access to the cockpit.

Its assumed that aboard a plane with a hand weapon, the purpose is to take over the plane to use its explosive power against a target. Not kill everyone on board and land safely else where.

jacksonNovember 19, 2009 10:51 AM

Does anyone know if it's illegal to communicate with your checked luggage while in flight?

Tom StoneNovember 19, 2009 10:51 AM

The simple solution is to allow people to bring anything they want onto the aircraft. Just put straight jackets on all passengers so that the items can not be used :-)

BobWNovember 19, 2009 10:52 AM

9/11 changed the rules of engagement.

Before, the way to deal with hijackers was to stall. Land the plane. Block the runway. Feed them airline food. Let the toilets go a little long before serviceing them. These are hijackers. They don't deal well with boredom.

Storm the plane if the hijackers try to solve their boredom problem the wrong way.

Since 9/11 we can't do it that way any more.

I always said that bounties on hijackers would be much cheaper than the TSA and DHS.

$10,000.00/passenjer/hijacker dead. $100,000.00/passenger/hijacker alive. The hijacker must be alive, but need not be undamaged.

Mistakes, hoaxes, attempts at fraud to be prosecuted as air piracy.

Friends, acquaintances, and relatives of the hijackers cannot collect, but if they are instrumental in the capture the government will waive the death penalty.

Bounties would apply to all U.S. flag carriers and flights ending in the USA.

GlassKnifeNovember 19, 2009 10:53 AM

Neal Stephenson wrote about glass knives back in 1992 (Snow Crash). This is a non-story.

scottNovember 19, 2009 10:58 AM

Spider is right.

It's a safe assumption that a miscreant does not board an airplane with the intent to actually kill people with a knife or a shank. He doesn't want to use it to kill (directly), he wants to use it to scare.

If you want to kill people by shooting/stabbing them, it's much easier to do so in other places where you're not screened for weapons.

What an airplane offers is the ability to terrorize people by hijacking it, and the chance to kill a lot of people by crashing it.

Plastic knives might be relatively effective at stabbing pigs in the neck, but they're not exactly going to terrify me into submission. Even a broken bottle will tell me that the guy waving it is grossly unprofessional.

Neither of them are good at taking down an airplane, either (like a bomb would).

Now, if the guy had a bowie knife or a machete or something really threatening, I'd probably stay in my seat ;-)

Call it "terror theatre" if you like; so the answer is then to screen out anything that could be used to scare a bunch of passengers and crew into submission.

Of course, that's probably an equally impossible set of objects to screen. :-D

octoNovember 19, 2009 11:17 AM

My father, in a previous , um, career, was trained in using a rolled up newspaper as a melee weapon.

NostromoNovember 19, 2009 11:45 AM

@RogerGS: what's this "less than 4 inches" rule?
I had a pair of scissors confiscated whose blades were less than 1 inch long. A few years ago. At Newark IIRC.

mcbNovember 19, 2009 12:37 PM

@ gunless

Haven't read this study http://ajph.aphapublications.org/cgi/content/... but the abstract makes no mention of what fraction - if any - of the 677 Philadelphia residents shot while in possession of a firearm were police officers, armed security personnel, or private citizens carrying concealed firearms in a lawful manner. If the subjects of this study were themselves part of the criminal sub-culture we need to remember membership in that demographics puts a person at much higher risk for homicide, other violent crime, and firearms injury. Shootee one day, shooter the next.

AndréNovember 19, 2009 12:54 PM

@scott
so what is it about a bowie knife, that makes it that much scarier to you than any other given object to stab someone? Have you ever been on a plane and seen how much space there is to wield a weapon? You are always and anywhere completely surrounded by people who after 9/11 will fight back for sure (someone will and others will follow). And there is no possibility to prevent an attack from behind etc. The only way to cow people will be to take a hostage - for what you only need something that looks as if you could kill the hostage with it. So as long as you don't choose the drunken hooligan nobody liked on that flight so far, your choice of weapon doesn't matter too much ... ;-)

MuffinNovember 19, 2009 1:06 PM

"Commonly available items [...] were used to inflict stab and incised wounds to the necks of 3 previously euthanized Large White pig."

Oh, good. When I read the title, I actually thought they'd demonstrated how you can easily damage the major neck vessels using a plastic toy pig or so.

HamNovember 19, 2009 1:08 PM

I'm not sure why they had to actually use animals to test this. I mean, once you construct the tool, it's pretty obvious what you can do with it. Not that I mind finding any excuse for a pig pickin'.

Mark RichardsNovember 19, 2009 1:17 PM

What about jewelry? A whole slew of pendants, pins, brooches can be used to lethal effect.

A CSI:NY episode ("Turbulence") depended on this as a plot device ... a flight attendant's wings, thrust forcefully into the victim's carotid.

mcbNovember 19, 2009 1:25 PM

@ Ben

"I'm expecting an announcement from the Guvmint that pigs will be banned from carry on luggage in future"

I had a completely different take-away...

I'm thinking raw pork dickies for cabin crew as protection against attacks with improvised edged weapons fabricated from miniature liquor bottles or shanks made of tightly rolled seat pocket magazines. Such garb might also serve to reduce hostage-seizing and strangulation attempts by certain demographics as well.

It's amusing that people are starting to see how long a string is acceptable in the Name field when November 19, 2009 1:34 PM

While seeing arterial wounds could be terror-inducing to most people, that type of attack is not the most effective.

By the way, do they make you cut your fingernails if they are beyond a certain length?

I suppose it could be the name of a music groupNovember 19, 2009 1:37 PM

@mcb

"raw pork dickies" ?

Thank you. Tea is now coming out of my nose.

RHNovember 19, 2009 1:37 PM

@gunless: I agree with RT, I did not pay for the full text (only read the public part), but it looks to me that it does not account for people's lifestyles affecting whether or not they want to own a gun. It should be no surprise that those who feel value in arming themselves are, on average, in more dangerous areas to live.

NostromoNovember 19, 2009 1:46 PM

@It's amusing:
"By the way, do they make you cut your fingernails if they are beyond a certain length?"

On the contrary, they confiscate anything that you might use to cut your fingernails.

RebelNovember 19, 2009 1:49 PM

@Ben:
The Gubmint's solution: get rid of people, or alternatively, get rid of air travel.

My solution: Get rid of the Gubmint.

McCoy PauleyNovember 19, 2009 1:53 PM

Chuck Norris has NOT been banned by TSA! He simply REFUSES to fly because, confronted with their level of stupidity, his only out would be to drive his fingers through his OWN head.

PackagedBlueNovember 19, 2009 2:24 PM

The men who stare at airplanes. I could kill an airplane with a stare.

Ha, outdid even the Trained Professional, with his bare hands.

Note to TSA: this was a joke, an attempt at humor, at perspectives.

AntonNovember 19, 2009 3:50 PM

Macabre, I don't need to stab pigs to figure out that a broken glass is a weapon, just ask emergency service at large hospitals.

Poor pigs.

Clive RobinsonNovember 19, 2009 4:42 PM

@ RH,

"It should be no surprise that those who feel value in arming themselves are, on average, in more dangerous areas to live."

Err even in the US that is arguable (Texas for instance).

I suspect it has more to do with availability and perception rather than real risk.

An argument that sometimes pops up is the lack of street crime in places where people are alowed to carry concealed weapons. Usually it is a case of incorect or overly simplistic observation / perception (broken window anyone?)

scottNovember 19, 2009 4:56 PM

@andre

"So what is it about a bowie knife, that makes it that much scarier to you than any other given object to stab someone?"

That's easy - I'm culturally trained ;-) Movies and books and what not.
Even the shape is important - a bowie knife just looks... mean. (To me at least). When I see a bowie knife, it looks like a weapon. It's big, it's prominent. It doesn't look like something else (Is that a garden trowel?).

When I see it, I don't have to think, I don't have to evaluate any context to know that the implement is there to do people harm.

A terrorist is probably trying to keep people from thinking and from moving beyond fear; they're probably trying to subdue people through emotional reaction, precisely *because* a plane is so cramped and dangerous to subdue.

Your point about hostage taking is a good one, but perhaps part of the plan is not to subdue the plane in general but to intimidate a few select people (captain, marshals, etc).

In that case I think more imposing weapon might be of value.

AndrewNovember 19, 2009 7:17 PM

TSA is trying to stop a particular type of weapon: a weapon that could be used to hold a hostage and threaten them and/or others with immediate and likely death. This is why knives are of particular concern when many of the other improvised weapons named are not.

The logical conclusion is to declare a strict no-hostages policy. This is a common practice in many American prisons and jails. Rough on visitors and stressful for the staff, but effective at preventing incidents.

I was also wondering when/if this would degenerate into Yet Another Gun Control Debate On Schneier's Blog.

Shawn SmithNovember 19, 2009 7:23 PM

When it comes to flying, it seemed to me one of the best ways to prevent hijacking would be to have the only entrance to the cockpit outside the plane. No internal door to the cockpit, and if a crew member needs to go to the bathroom, they need to use a bedpan. Also, just knock all the passengers out before they get on the plane and stack them like cordwood. No need for attendants, in-flight food, or other ammenities.

It won't stop timed bombs from going off, or an internal threat (bad crewmember) though, so there will have to be some way of dealing with those.

Clive RobinsonNovember 19, 2009 10:09 PM

And this years winner for the Australian "No Sh1t Sherlock" award is,

RW Byard, GE Cains and JD Gilbert from the University of Adelaide.

With,

"However, given the results of a relatively uncomplicated modification of a plastic knife, it may not be possible to remove all dangerous objects from aircraft."

I feel they should also be nominated for the "Most gratuatous use of live animals" award.

I think the answer to,

"What is the point of the paper?"

Is, for the authors to get another publication...

Oh and for those not up on UK "english" nuancies, "pig" is a slang word for a policeman and whilst "dickies" is an alternative for "bow tie" "dick" in all it's varieties is slang for a part of the male anatomy (along with pork sword / lance / other thrusting weapons).

Therefor I leave it to your own imagination what might pass through peoples minds on reading,

"I'm thinking raw pork dickies for cabin crew..."

RogerNovember 20, 2009 1:04 AM

" ... inflict stab and incised wounds to the necks of 3 previously euthanized Large White pigs. "

This result is not valid. We request that the experiment be repeated with live, conscious pigs. Preferably Large ones, of Any Colour. Please film the proceedings.

testingNovember 20, 2009 2:01 AM

@zorro and other gunslingers: it might be handy to have a gun in a dangerous area - but the statistics (yeah, i know...) are quite clear: more guns distributed to people equal more incidents. In a country with less guns the amount of shot wounds, deaths by accidents and of course gun related crime (armed robbery) etc. are fewer.
As an individual I would always prefer to have a gun. As part of society I am glad that this is not possible here[tm]. Its like speedlimits - everybody thinks of himself as a safe driver and capable of calculating risks regarding traveling speed, yet the enforcement of a strict speed limit decreases the overall number of deaths on the roads.

notmeNovember 20, 2009 4:34 AM

zorro. your comments re: "more guns distributed to people equal more incidents" is factually incorrect and the feel-good theory behind it has been debunked for years. It is well proven that the greater the distribution of firearms in a given population the less likely it is that those firearms will be used.

But this isnt about guns - its about the absurdity of removing everything that could possibly be used to injure/threaten/scare/cajole another person.

Humans kill things - they are quite good at it and have been doing it for quite a long time. Nothing that anyone does will ever change that.

averrosNovember 20, 2009 5:00 AM

@testing - you missed the point of gun rights movement completely. It is NOT about being safer, individually, or as a society. It is about being a free man rather than a chattel of the armed group of people known as "the State".

Now, of course, being a slave has it advantages... to a certain type of people. Those of them who are honest with themselves hang out at BDSM meetups. The rest are in denial.

AndrewNovember 20, 2009 5:02 AM

notme:
"It is well proven that the greater the distribution of firearms in a given population the less likely it is that those firearms will be used."

by % or absolute numbers?

testingNovember 20, 2009 5:45 AM

@averros: there are so many flaws in this arguement that I hardly know where to start...
define "free" - this toppic is highly discussable and there is always the balance between freedom and safety. And it has to be a balance because neither one alone is sufficiant. The benefit of an armed population has to be weight against the dangers of the distributed guns (crime-rate, risk of accidents and injuries etc.). To carry a gun does not by itself makes one a free man (think of child soldiers in failed states like somalia)

there is no "armed group known as the state" - the state is us. I suggest to read Hobbes (Leviathan) for a short overview. The armed part of the state is part of the system we are free to shape - elections are one possibility.

If the difference between the feeling to be a slave and to be a free man depends solely on the possibility to carry a private gun, then I suggest some therapy (spent some volunteer time at the trauma station at a hospital or somethin). Taking guns as a criteria is hilarious.

Lisa SimpsonNovember 20, 2009 5:53 AM

@Zorro: That's actually because I'm keeping them away from NRA meetings with my terrorist repellent rock.

You might not have noticed, but I've also been keeping them away from Belgian pastry shops. No need to thank me, I do it because I like crullers.

RealistNovember 20, 2009 6:31 AM

@testing:
"the state is us. ...... part of the system we are free to shape ... elections ..."
Boy, you really have been hitting the Kool-Aid. I don't share Averros' position either, but at least he inhabits the real world.
Here's a clue. Large US corporations spend billions of dollars on lobbying politicians. Now, if "we the people" shaped the state, that would all be pointless.

The House of Representatives votes on hundreds of bills in a session. A voter can, at the very most, express a preference for yes/no on one of them, because the only choice the voter has is between (at most) 2 viable candidates for the House. In most districts there isn't even that choice because most districts are "owned" by one of the main parties.

bobNovember 20, 2009 7:51 AM

@André: you bring up a point I had never thought about. What if a hijacker tries to take over an aircraft in flight by using as a hostage that snotty little girl from the row behind you who has been screaming, kicking your seat back and putting disgusting stuff in your hair continuously for the last 2 hours while her mother alternately ignored you or cast dirty looks at you whenever you suggested her little angel's behavior was less than perfect. You would be seriously conflicted in the ensuing "take over the plane" fight as to which side to join...

mcbNovember 20, 2009 8:08 AM

@Clive Robinson

"Oh and for those not up on UK 'English' nuancies, 'pig' is a slang word for a policeman and whilst 'dickies' is an alternative for 'bow tie.' 'dick' in all it's varieties is slang for a part of the male anatomy...

Therefor I leave it to your own imagination what might pass through peoples minds on reading,

'I'm thinking raw pork dickies for cabin crew...'"

The fact that even most Americans have no direct experience with the fashion accessory called a "dicky" nothwithstanding, let's not forget that American English is the official language of the Global War On Terror™.

PS Even I'm more than a little surprised to learn you can still buy an American dickey http://www.dakotamainstreet.com/dickiepage.html just not one made from an uncooked pork roast.

PierreNovember 20, 2009 8:15 AM

@Grande Mocha:
"In Switzerland, most of the populace is well armed (and trained in firearm use!), yet the crime rate is extremely low."

Correlation does not imply causation.

As a Swiss, I can safely contend that the crime rate is extremely low despite of the populace beeing well armed. We're only well armed, because every able man has to do military service where he gets a gun or rifle which he has to keep at home when he is on passive duty. This is however (slowly) changing since most crimes or suizides involving guns were commited with these military weapons and a lot of them could have been prevented if access to these weapons had not been so easy. I've also never heard of anyone using their weapon to defend themself but only to commit suizide or go postal and shoot innocent people.

So in Switzerland, your pro-weapons case is actually a big anti-weapons case.

Da ScritchNovember 20, 2009 8:41 AM

Easier : I break the arm of a co-traveler with any martial art I know, then I use the broken bone as a knife.

Now , the TSA will forbid any bone in an airplane

jgrecoNovember 20, 2009 8:52 AM

@Pierre "Correlation does not imply causation."

I believe that was the point he was trying to make. You will note he provided the counter-example of Somalia.

evixirNovember 20, 2009 8:52 AM

I've traveled many a time with thick 10"-long aluminum knitting needles and they've never given me a single problem. Stick them in a skein of yarn and nobody says a word. But somehow a 4" metal nail file is a problem.

kangarooNovember 20, 2009 9:00 AM

GlassKnife: Neal Stephenson wrote about glass knives back in 1992 (Snow Crash). This is a non-story.

Yes, because a scientific paper confirming the exact level of damage produced by a cohort of ostensibly safe household utensils is EXACTLY the same as ideas floating through the SFsphere.

Conversely, we should pulp all novels that include material that has been referenced in the scientific literature -- they're non-novels of no interest, since you could just read the journal articles. We can throw out Moby Dick since there are early descriptions of whaling available -- generations of high school students would appreciate that.

kangarooNovember 20, 2009 9:10 AM

jgreco -- no, that wasn't exactly the point that Grande Mocha was making. The original point was that the examples and counter-examples were irrelevant to the crimes rate essentially; that the "causation" (what a terrible word) was really social structure.

Pierre's point is that guns ARE "causative" in the case of Swiss violence -- the low violence rate would be even lower in the absence of easily available weapons.

But in the end, please, there are no "causes". There are only time-dependent correlations and defined processes. There are determined relationships, and under-determined relationships.

But "causes" and "effect"? Do we have to speak like primitive, ignorant, flee-ridden slaver Greek philosophers from the Iron Age? There are mathematical relationships, and there is verbal bullshit.

jgrecoNovember 20, 2009 9:29 AM

@kangaroo

In that case, I misunderstood Pierre's comment, the opening line of "Correlation does not imply causation." must have thrown me off.

"But in the end, please, there are no "causes". There are only time-dependent correlations and defined processes. There are determined relationships, and under-determined relationships.

But "causes" and "effect"? Do we have to speak like primitive, ignorant, flee-ridden slaver Greek philosophers from the Iron Age? There are mathematical relationships, and there is verbal bullshit."

I fully agree.

Ward S. DenkerNovember 20, 2009 10:12 AM

I'm pretty sure that martial arts masters can kill people pretty efficiently with just their hands and feet.

The TSA's new policy: Only quadriplegics can fly.

Sir, we're going to have to ask you to remove those before boarding...

AlexNovember 20, 2009 10:22 AM

People who are carrying a concealed weapon should identify themselves with a badge or armband so people around them know there is a danger of getting shot. In the last two years over 80 people have been killed by law abiding concealed handgun license holders. Laws that conceal the identity of concealed handgun license holders need to be repealed as well.

If you really believe you are not safe in America without carrying a gun at all times, then you must be crazy to stay here.

jgrecoNovember 20, 2009 10:25 AM

@Alex

That kind of defeats the purpose of "concealed" carry doesn't it? If that is what you are intending to do then just say so, it is a respectable enough position that plenty of people hold.

Ward S. DenkerNovember 20, 2009 11:10 AM

Alex,

You presuppose that people carry firearms out of fear. Lots of people carry them simply because firearms are only useful if they're with you when you need one.

Do you carry your wallet with you every day? Do you actually buy something or identify yourself to someone every day? Probably not, but you carry it with you so that you have it for the times you'll need it. Planning ahead for something you don't ever expect to happen is not the same thing as living in fear.

I've carried a pocket knife with me for most of my life. Rarely do I actually use it, but the times that I have it I am happy it's with me. I could technically stab someone with it. By your rationale, should I be required to wear an armband that identifies me?

You cite a statistic, but you don't link to where you got it. There's no context, so it's an empty number and, for all we know, something you just made up. Assuming it's factual, how many of those were later ruled as justifiable shootings? I'd be willing to bet that almost every one of them were, similar to how police officers occasionally use their firearms improperly resulting in unjustifiable homicides, but most police only use them for what they're intended for: to preserve their lives or the lives of others.

Maybe it's you who are living in fear if you worry so much about who could be carrying a concealed firearm around you.

jgrecoNovember 20, 2009 12:15 PM

@Alex, @Ward S. Denker

On the topic of emotionally charged statistics, according to the National Weather Service, 60 people were killed by lightning last year. Assuming that is average, that is 20 more people per year than are killed by concealed carriers according to Alex's uncited statistic. This is a literal case of the classical "you are more likely to get hit by lightning than ..." hyperbole.

Just goes to show that perceptions of relative security are not always in line with reality.

http://www.weather.gov/om/lightning/medical.htm

mcbNovember 20, 2009 1:29 PM

@ Alex

"In the last two years over 80 people have been killed by law abiding concealed handgun license holders."

Since you possess the source of this interesting statistic, how many of these persons had presented a threat of deadly violence to the law abiding concealed handgun license holder who shot them?

In the words of Detective Callahan: "Nothing wrong with shooting as long as the right people get shot!"

Grande MochaNovember 20, 2009 7:42 PM

@Pierre,

I am well aware that "correlation is not causation," but I did not intend to argue that weapon availability levels were or were not a significant cause of violence. My point was that there appear, at least to me, to be other more important factors than weapon availability affecting social violence.


@Kangaroo,

It is not clear to me that the quantum level physical models scale to macro level phenomena (a point that Shrodinger made as a joke about a cat which unfortunately has been misunderstood by far too many sci-fi acolytes). So, I'll continue to cling to my archaic notions of cause and affect; they work well enough to model things larger than a couple dozen nanometers. Of course, if Fraa Jaad begins singing on my doorstep, then I'll be happy to reconsider.

@jgreco

Thank you for taking the time to read my post!

Bill McGonigleNovember 20, 2009 10:22 PM

Yeah, so the cockpit doors have been hardened for a while now. The 9/11 attack is mostly impossible (actually that had been solved on the 4th plane, by ordinary Americans with good horse-sense about the security threat).

I'm most interested to hear how the pilots are being trained to react in the event of a hostage situation.

ZorroNovember 21, 2009 6:38 PM


Just to clear the air: I don't favor guns on aircraft in anyones hands. Too much chance of depressurizing the plane, accidents, and far too crowded.

I don't feel a need to always carry. I just feel safer knowing someone in the crowd is carrying. Get mugged a few times, violently, as in beaten up and hospitalized, and you will to. Guns are not there to threaten somebody. They're there to kill. I'll avoid trouble if I can. If I can't. Well, I'm not the biggest or the strongest. What is it they say? God made men. Colt made them equal.

As for gun-free societies? Look at the UK. Weren't they trying to ban kitchen knives with pointed ends recently? Sure, gun-crime is down over there. But folks have switched to clubs, knives, or what have you.

LeeNovember 24, 2009 7:50 AM

Post 9/11, I was thinking about the boxcutters allegedly used by the hijackers would be of limited use when compared to a broken bottle of your favourite booze - conveniently for sale after you've passed through security.

And the countermeasure seems to be to put the bottle into a sealed plastic bag.

Sometimes the simplest things are there for you to use.

Before we know it, we'll be packed away into coffins before being wheeled onboard. That'll save us being charged a buck to go to the toilet, too ;-)

Flying CircusNovember 24, 2009 9:46 AM

@Zorro:

"Too much chance of depressurizing the plane, accidents, and far too crowded."

The first point is the most important one. One shot and everybody has a huge problem (allthough, admittedly, not for long).

"Look at the UK. Weren't they trying to ban kitchen knives with pointed ends recently? Sure, gun-crime is down over there. But folks have switched to clubs, knives, or what have you."

So from your point of view, all weapons are equally lethal? I beg to differ. Although knifes are in some situations more dangerous than hand guns, I'll grant you that.

Dave BellNovember 25, 2009 3:01 AM

As far as a stray shot depressurising the aircraft goes, there's a lot of myth on the subject, going back to James Bond books and movies. And the loss of the DH Comet airliners.

As the USAF found in Korea, airframes had become tough enough, to stand the stresses of flying at airliner speeds, that it was getting hard to do enough damage with multiple .50 calibre machine guns.

And designers make planes that can keep flying after a cabin window blows out. You'll need oxygen, and the planes have emergency oxygen systems. It's a planned-for calamity.

Heck, there are back-up control systems because hardware fails. Stray bullets are just another cause of failure.

What really scares the airlines are how much it will cost to repair the damage. A sky marshal, I expect they can at least count shots fired with some certainty, and compare with the number of bullets dug out of people.

Yes, Air Forces do train on battle damage repair, but they're willing to take chances on the long-term future of the airframe. The FAA wouldn't like what they do.

This whole belief in the disastrous results of using a gun on a plane: it's movies that do it.


Bill FrantzDecember 15, 2009 1:59 PM

TSA has always permitted the most dangerous weapon of all to board airplanes. The weapon is, of course, the human brain.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..