How to Solve Nothing
I’m not going to pretend that this bill proposed by my Senacritter, which would prohibit carrying a firearm in an airport outside of a screening area, represents some sort of apocalyptic infringement on Second Amendment rights. Indeed, for the most part, I don’t really see much purpose for people to carry firearms into an airport if they’re not already packed up in a to-be-checked-suitcase, since that’s where the firearms are going to have to go in any event. We’re talking about a bill that seeks to reduce the ability of firearms owners to, in essence, carry their weapons to the ticket counter or, in some instances, wait to pick someone up or give a quick kiss good-bye while carrying their gun. I can’t imagine compliance with this being much more than trivial hassle for the average gunowner.
Then again, I don’t really see much harm in allowing the average person to carry their guns into the non-secure parts of an airport, either. It’s not like airports, at least before you get to the security gate, are all that different from other areas where significant numbers of people congregate, like shopping malls or parks. It’s not exactly a setting where there’s an unusual amount of risk of an accidental discharge or of someone stealing someone else’s gun and going on a rampage with it.
But of course, the rationale for this proposal is not a fear of what the average gun owner will do in an airport setting; it’s a fear of what a homicidal maniac can do in an airport setting. The rationale, I suppose, is that the currently unsecured parts of an airport are more closely analogous to a courthouse or a federal building or (occasionally) a sports arena. Ok, fair enough.
One problem, though: how do you enforce this proposed law in a way that meaningfully reduces the risk from the rare whacko who wants to shoot up an airport? In other words, how does this bill actually reduce the threat to which it is responding?
If this bill were to pass, I am quite certain that the average gun-owner, in the overwhelming majority of cases, would take pains to comply with it. But would we really expect any of those rare whack-jobs who want to shoot up an airport (or are even capable of it) to obey this law? I am quite certain that the penalty for violating this law will be substantially less than the penalty for murder or attempted murder, and definitely less than the penalty for terrorism.
So there’s obviously no deterrent effect that this law will have on people trying to kill other people in an airport setting. But it could still be justified if it made it easier for law enforcement to stop people before they start opening fire. There are two ways this could happen – but one could never accomplish anything, and the other….well, you be the judge.
The first way the law could hypothetically be meaningfully enforced is if it allowed police officers to stop someone after they entered the airport but before they went on their rampage. The trouble with this is that, although airports as a whole are often huge, the target areas for any potential gunman before someone gets to the security checkpoints are just about always close to the airport entrance. This gives law enforcement at most a few seconds to observe someone with a gun entering the building and apprehend them. To say that this is unlikely would be a terrible understatement, to say the least.
The second way actually could reduce the risk of an airport attack. That way involves installing security checkpoints before you even enter the airport – before the ticket counters, before the baggage claim areas, and before the, uhh, security checkpoints. Regardless of whether this is a good idea (it’s not), is this realistic? I certainly can’t imagine that it’s what Lautenberg has in mind, but even if it were- is it a realistic solution? To do so would require either that every person who enters an airport go through a security checkpoint, with every person going on a flight going through two security checkpoints, or that every single person going into the airport go through the exact same sort of checkpoint we currently go through if we’re flying, meaning that anyone with a bag to check would either have to use a Sky-Cap or make their checked baggage compliant with the rules for carry-on baggage (such as the infamous 3.5 ounce liquid rule), as would limo drivers, well-wishers, and greeters. Needless to say, if air travel is to remain even moderately tolerable, neither of these outcomes is going to happen anytime soon.
All of which means that this law will wind up preventing exactly zero bad guys from killing people. It will prevent a substantial number of otherwise law-abiding people from taking guns into an airport, which achieves nothing one way or the other. It will, however, almost certainly result in some number of innocent people getting nailed for absent-mindedly forgetting to leave their gun in the car while they go to greet or say good-bye to a loved one (and do we really want people leaving guns unattended in airport parking lots as a regular occurence anyhow?).
Assuming that the draconian enforcement measures I mentioned above don’t get implemented, this proposed law is, again, far from an apocalyptic infringement on Second Amendment rights or any rights at all, really. But that doesn’t make it remotely the “common-sense” sort of legislation that the good Senator thinks it is. It just makes it the sort of legislation that will get people punished for an occasional episode of absent-mindedness, guns left unattended in heavily used parking lots, and no risks reduced, even a little. Common-sense, it would seem, isn’t so common.