Is that a Gun in your Baggage, or Are You Just Glad…

I fly a lot. I’m writing this (thanks to in-flight Wi-Fi) on a plane soon to land at LAX.

Yet I agree with Robert Poole at Reason’s blog: the gun that tumbled out of a checked bag at LAX is no threat to me.* How could it be? Yes, it should have been packed unloaded (which is apparently the law): there’s always a chance that a gun could accidentally fire, at risk to the plane, if some idiot leaves the safety off. But a little reflection makes clear that there is no way a gun in checked luggage could conceivably be used in a hijacking—except if we assume some Mission: Impossible level of crazy plotting. And if we care to assume that we can think up much more plausible ways of executing in-air violence successfully.

I hope Poole is wrong that politicians will use this as an excuse to give the TSA more authority. One of the central purposes of a representative democracy, not to mention one that makes use of experts, is to save us from random synapses that don’t represent real reasons.

Here’s a textbook case illustrating the principle. The only question is which chapter of the textbook we’ll put it in. Representative and expert democracy will work exactly as they ought to here. Or they won’t.

*To the literalists in the peanut gallery: I realize that a gun in a checked bag flying out of LAX is by definition no threat to a flight arriving into LAX. But one might expect me to be scared in general at the prospect. I’m not and I shouldn’t be.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl is a Visiting Professor in the Program on Ethics, Politics, and Economics and in Political Science at Yale University.