J. KARL MILLER: TSA has applied common sense

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:14 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A semi-frequent flier, I have not adapted well to the annoyance factor of the Transportation Security Administration's heavy-handed and bureaucratic rules and regulations as to what a passenger is allowed to carry or wear aboard an aircraft. That I am not alone in resentment of these often nit-picking inconveniences is a matter of record.

The serial silliness of banning such innocuous items such as fingernail clippers, small scissors in sewing kits and pen knives was bad enough. However, I experienced the granddaddy of all absurdities a few years ago when an over-officious TSA official relieved me of the P-38 I had carried on my key ring since 1957.

For those who are not familiar with the nomenclature of the P-38 (or John Wayne, as it is affectionately dubbed), it is a pocket sized can opener, designed to open military "C-Ration" cans. Approximately 1.5 inches long, the device consists of a short metal handle with a minute, hinged metal tooth that folds out to pierce the lid of a can.

For the life of me, I wonder to this day just what mischief that TSA official believed I might perform to hazard the aircraft or crew. My belt buckle was a more lethal weapon than that P-38 that had faithfully served me for nearly 40 years.

I viewed a glimmer of hope in March 2012 when TSA relaxed the rules on shoe removal, decreeing passengers 75 and older could remain shod through the check-in process. This was particularly gratifying to this geezer fellow — I wear cowboy boots and removing them required a boot jack as part of my carry on luggage.

However, the TSA's announcement that passengers will be allowed to carry small pocket knives when boarding aircraft might be the light at the end of the tunnel. One can see the logic in this decision — it frees the screeners from the tedious task of searching for minutia and enables them to concentrate inspections of more serious threats that could actually bring down the airplane.

This decision has earned a large measure of criticism from the U.S. Marshals Service, at least two airlines (DeltaAir Lines and US Airways) and the "nanny" Congress, which has introduced legislation to reverse the decision. Hopefully reason and logic will prevail over hysteria and histrionics.

Coming from a generation that views males without pocket knives as undressed or unprepared for small repairs, I find the critics to be laughable. There is any number of hazardous substances that could severely damage an aircraft or cause it to crash — the pocket knife hardly fits that category. As for the air marshals' fears — let's face it, an armed marshal who cannot handle a passenger with a pocketknife is of little use.

Perhaps this small ray of common sense will spread to include ending the absurd "criminalizing" of school children who incur innocently and unintentionally the full wrath and punishment of an unyielding/easily daunted school district. There are far too many instances of children, third grade and below, who have been expelled or suspended for absurdly silly gun or knife infractions.

A recent example involved 7-year-old Josh Welsh, a student at Park Elementary in Baltimore. Josh, while eating breakfast there, chewed a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun. For this heinous act, he was suspended for 2 days which was not only ridiculous but also possibly damaging to his self-esteem and attitude.

There was an incident in Newark, Del., where 6-year-old Zachary Christie proudly took his Cub Scout combo knife, fork and spoon to school to try out at lunch. For this offense, he was suspended and faced up to 45 days in reform school. Cooler heads prevailed to prevent his "incarceration," but why should that have been a consideration?

There was also a Delaware case of a young third-grader who brought a birthday cake to school to share with classmates along with a cake knife her grandmother had provided. The teacher cut and served the cake and then reported the young lady for bringing a knife to school — she was suspended.

The school districts that hand out these draconian punishments to children claim their hands are tied — a so called "Zero Defects" rule applies that must be obeyed. I maintain this is hogwash — a superintendent or principal who cannot use judgment and common sense in applying the rules is as useless as that armed marshal who is no match for the knife wielder.

Our children are precious and will inherit the future all too soon. Let them be kids while they can — punishing them for being and behaving as children is foolish. Superintendents and principals, you have an awesome responsibility, that responsibility requires leadership — if you punish by the "book," a computer can do your job.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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wayne mcmillen March 20, 2013 | 10:35 a.m.

great article. I am reminded that when I was in junior high I lost a coin purse that contained a couple of pennies that had been placed on a railroad track. I was called to the office. I chuckled when they handed me the coin purse because I knew it contained nothing of value. Along with the coin purse I got a lecture on the illegal acts of defacing coins....but that was that. No one confiscated the coins nor was I suspended. The point they made did not go unnoticed by me.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger March 20, 2013 | 10:59 a.m.

Agree on all counts. Alas, my junior high school record no doubt includes a notation of my suspension for possession of a water pistol, and that was in 1954.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 20, 2013 | 3:51 p.m.

"The teacher cut and served the cake and then reported the young lady for bringing a knife to school — she was suspended."

I don't think this is a dangled participle, but something got dangled.

Who got suspended...the teacher or young lady?

I'm hoping it was the teacher.

PS: This is an effort to put the fear of God into ALL children so that, over time, guns become a thing of the the hands of the hoi polloi, that is. Gov't gets to keep theirs. INO, it's a long-term plan.

It'll work, too. For most citizens.

Not all, tho. Especially those who are rural.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 20, 2013 | 5:18 p.m.

What we have now is the RESULT, no matter how clumsy or misguided, of what has happened with air travel. I don't care for the TSA any more than anyone else, but we all know who has caused things to be as they are.

Thanks, hijackers and terrorists, for making air travel so much safer and enjoyable.

My granddaughters look at me as if I'd been on the sauce when I tell them we used to arrive at the airport, pick up our tickets, go directly to the designated gate, and board the plane.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 20, 2013 | 5:40 p.m.

Ellis: "My granddaughters look at me as if I'd been on the sauce..."

Hell, Ellis. We ALL think that.......


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 21, 2013 | 7:52 a.m.


Occasionally I run out of sauce and temporarily sober up. During those brief periods it's preferable to say away from me.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates March 21, 2013 | 1:00 p.m.

Ah, memories.....not too long ago the teacher would ask "who has a penknife", and every boy (and some girls) in the class would raise his hand, hoping to be the one picked.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller March 21, 2013 | 2:12 p.m.

Everyone agrees with me? I must be losing it.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 21, 2013 | 2:33 p.m.

J. Karl:

Momma always said, "Everyone has to be right sometime in their life." Momma obviously lead a sheltered life. :)

(Report Comment)

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