On My Soap Box: Air Safety Is NOT A Viable Public Safety Model

I was reading some reader opinions in the Forth Worth Star Telegram recently. They were all mostly political-based opinions ranging from climate change to government budget, i.e. the usual. There was one though that stood out to me. Someone held the opinion that the way to stop mass shootings was to model public safety after the changes the TSA applied in the wake of 9/11.

But rather than have me paraphrase it, let me share the direct quote from the Fort Worth Star Telegram page. But in case you can't see the page because of their pay wall, here's the exact text as it appears on their website:

"Air travel gives a model for safety

To prevent violence on hijacked aircraft, we did not merely establish a type of red-flag system to keep unstable or dangerous people from boarding while allowing the vast majority of law-abiding people to take knives, guns and liquids aboard an aircraft. We banned everyone from carrying these items. The possible consequences of an aircraft used as a bomb overcame the restriction on personal liberty.

The question is, does an occasional 15 to 20 dead Americans justify the same approach to the personal liberty to purchase an AR-15?

- Paul Park, Fort Worth"

Now, I don't know Paul Park or any experiences Paul has had with either air travel or guns but having experienced both I see a few challenges with this premise.

We can start with the basics, the rules applied to traveling via the air are already applied to guns. I can't carry a gun on a plane willy nilly and couldn't long before 9/11 and the TSA model of today's air travel that Paul references. Not to mention that similar restrictions on where we can legally carry our guns outside of airports that don't apply to nail clippers. And I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the penalties for getting caught with a pair of nail clippers by the TSA is FAR less severe than getting caught with a gun in the airport or anywhere else where it is unlawful to carry a firearm. Politicians over the years have already gone to great lengths to uphold our 2nd Amendment Right while trying to discourage others from breaking it by levying hefty fines and jail times.

And I've seen people at the airports who "forgot" they had a pistol in their bag. I've watched as many armed personnel surround and escort that individual into a small room while someone else secures the gun. I've waited in lengthy lines that had to be halted while they investigate the man's bags for other contraband and while the TSA waits for local police to show up to take "the perp" into custody for what I am sure was a lengthy and exhausting interrogation before at a minimum the man was slapped with a massive fine and never got his gun back. Whereas if I get caught with nail clippers I just have to throw them away and I'm free to go about my day! No fines. No jail time. No interrogation. No armed response units.

Now let's take a closer look at Paul's suggestion. We'll start with the first paragraph, the sweeping ban on carrying dangerous items that came with the TSA's induction. So let's say that everyone is still allowed to own guns (because we are allowed to own nail clippers) but we aren't allowed to carry them anywhere. Okay, so what does that do or prove? Nothing. Felons are already not allowed to own, possess, carry, or have access to firearms but in 2018, 69,425 cases of felons being charged with possession of an illegal firearm were reported. This staggering statistic alone is enough to demonstrate that simply banning someone from carrying something only applies to those who obey the law. And these are just the numbers of those who got caught! School shootings are often carried out by people under the age of 18 which already makes it illegal for them to carry any type of gun on top of the already existing ban on anyone of any age (outside of law enforcement) from carrying a weapon on school grounds. So to Paul's first point, the sacrifice of personal liberty in the guise of sweeping bans on where firearms are allowed is already in place.

But let's get to the heart of Paul's message, his second paragraph. Here, Paul doesn't call for a TSA like ban on carrying firearms but a sweeping Federal ban on AR-15 style rifles. So really, in Paul's message, he isn't suggesting that the air travel gives a model for safety as the title suggests. Instead, Paul's message is more that the Federal Government has already established the ability to take away personal liberties at their whim because the Federal Government chose to stop all travelers from carrying their legally owned nail clippers on a plane. I think this is a gross misstatement about what personal liberties are, which ones can be infringed upon at the government's will, and how by simply banning the sell of this style of gun will make the entire issue of school shootings go away.

Let me dive into these pitiful excuses for an argument, if I may.

Personal Liberty is essentially defined as an individual's right to do as they will within the confines and constraints of the law to the benefit of society. A "personal liberty" is basically we can do whatever we choose within the confines of the law. Currently selling, buying, owning, and carrying (under strict conditions) are legal acts that we can do, BUT NOT AS A PERSONAL LIBERTY. Our right to "bear arms", i.e. own guns, is defined in our country's Bill of Rights under the 2nd Amendment. This elevates the rights to own a gun ABOVE a personal liberty. It is not our will to own a gun but our right to do so. There is a big difference between can and want. A right means that something CAN ALWAYS be done where as a personal liberty means something MIGHT be done but could be taken away at any time. It is our personal liberty to consume alcohol within the confines of the law but Prohibition showed that liberty can be revoked and reinstated at the government's will. However, our RIGHT to own gun, or guns, is a protected privilege. There's a big difference between our personal liberty to carry personal grooming items on a plane versus our RIGHT to own a firearm to protect our families or to provide our families with food. And we should never mistake our RIGHTS as something less than they are like a personal liberty.

That takes care of the first two core arguments implied by Paul's message. Banning the sale of guns, any gun, infringes on our RIGHTS as American citizens to own guns. It is not a personal liberty that we are allowed to purchase these items but a RIGHT and that is a VERY big difference in terms of what can and can't be restricted by the government.

And we saw the impact of Clinton's ban on the sell of AR-15 style weapons in the 90s, which brings me to our final point.

There was a federally mandated ban on the sell and purchase of assault rifles between the years of 1994 and 2004. After the ban expired in 2004, a number of studies were conducted to determine the effectiveness of the ban. Most studies concluded that the decade long ban had no statistical impact. Some studies did note that school shootings were down during that same period but could not definitively or conclusively suggest that the federal ban was a factor. This means that if we take Paul's suggestion to heart and once again place a ban on the sell of AR-15 style guns that we will likely see an imperceptible change to the culture that Paul is so desperate to stop.

But more than that, if we look at the last 40 years of mass shootings in the US the numbers paint a very different picture than what I feel Paul has in his mind. I think Paul's idea of banning AR-15 style rifles stems from some misconstrued concept that mass shootings are predominately perpetrated by gunmen using these style weapons and that's simply not true.

Between 1984 and 2023 there were 65 mass shootings within our nation's borders that involved a rifle. This doesn't mean that all of these were AR-15 style rifles, but were carried out with a gun that was classified as a rifle. Not a shotgun. Not a pistol. Only a rifle. And among those 65 incidents there were 70 rifles used, meaning that some may have included more than one gunman or that a single shooter used more than one rifle during the event. If we look at the law of averages that means that 1.5 mass shootings involving a rifle occurred every year during that 40 year period.

But before you get on your high horse about 1.5 per year being 1.5 per year to many, let's look at another statistic from that same report.

Between the same years, there were 115 mass shootings using pistols in which 165 pistols were used. That means that nearly 3 mass shootings using at least 4 pistols per event took place every year. That's nearly double the rate of occurrence and quadruple the number of guns per event during the same period. And while most AR-15 style weapons contain magazines that hold 20-30 rounds, most modern pistols hold 10-15 so if you have 1 AR-15 and I have 4 pistols, I have the greater capacity to inflict damage. And I can assure you that my .40 caliber pistol is just as lethal as my .223 caliber AR-15 style rifle in a close quarters engagement. So who's the real threat there?

Never mind the fact that the first AR-15 style rifle wasn't produced and sold to the public until 1963 but that many mass shootings had already occurred in our country prior to then. Mass shootings aren't a byproduct of this gun style's production or availability. Mass shootings didn't start with the AR-15 style rifles' invention and they certainly won't end with its banishment. To call for a ban on these types of guns as a means to halt the unfortunate loss of life associated with mass shootings is little more than a fantasy.

But truthfully, I think those pushing for a new assault rifle ban are ultimately trying to set the stage for a full weapons ban that would see ALL gun sales prohibited within our country. And that is a very slippery slope because once you ban the sale of guns it is a very short leap to banning ownership. And while some may argue that selling guns is a personal liberty not explicitly protected under the 2nd Amendment, the owning of guns is and to take a way a fundamental RIGHT granted by the Constitution means that we have NO RIGHTS and the government can impose anything it wishes upon its citizens which is not a good thing. The original concept behind those "inalienable rights" was to allow the population of our nation to avoid the oppressive rule they fought to escape but if those inalienable rights can be alienated then we are nothing but cattle subject to the government's whim with no real rights. To strip that fundamental right away means to dismantle the very fabric of the Constitution at which point we no longer are the United States of America but some new country governed by a new set of rules outside of the boundaries of what the Founding Fathers created in 1776.

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