Steve Chapman

Once in a while, a government agency adopts a policy that is logical, hardheaded, based on experience and unswayed by cheap sentiment. This may be surprising enough to make you reconsider your view of bureaucrats. But not to worry: It usually doesn't last.

In March the federal Transportation Security Administration surprised the country by relaxing its ban on knives and other items. Starting April 25, it said, it would allow knives with blades shorter than 2.36 inches, as well as golf clubs, pool cues and hockey sticks.

That was before flight attendants and members of Congress vigorously denounced the idea as a dire threat to life and limb. It was also before two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon.

So it came as no great surprise when last week TSA announced it would retain the existing ban indefinitely so it could hear more from "the aviation community, passenger advocates, law enforcement experts and other stakeholders."

A more plausible explanation is that TSA officials grasped the old Washington wisdom: Bureaucrats rarely get in trouble for being too careful. But if there were a single incident featuring a passenger and a blade, the agency would be tarred and feathered.

One of the stakeholders with a vested interest in the status quo is the store near the airport in Austin, Texas, that sells items confiscated by screeners. You can buy rolling pins, exercise weights and miniature baseball bats. Snow globes, reports The Wall Street Journal, go for $2. Scissors are $3. Swiss Army knives are so preposterously numerous they sell by the


Preventing this needless accumulation of innocuous contraband is only one of the reasons the change made sense. Someone wielding a 2-inch blade can no longer hope to take over a plane and fly it into a large building, since cockpit doors are now reinforced and locked -- and since passengers, with the experience of 9/11 in mind, will no longer sit by quietly while a hijacking takes place.

Many flights also have armed air marshals. As TSA administrator John Pistole explained, "A small pocketknife is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft."

Seizing snow globes and penknives wastes time and diverts attention from more dangerous items that might be smuggled on board, like bombs. Besides, anyone with malice in mind already has many alternative weapons available.

TSA allows pointed scissors with blades up to four inches long. It permits knitting needles. It blesses screwdrivers as long as seven inches. Glass bottles are not forbidden -- though they can easily be broken and turned into lethal weapons.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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