Is It Security, Or Security Theater?

It Sure Is A Big Show, Regardless

So many sidearms show up at airport security checkpoints in Texas their legislature enacted a statute to cut the public some slack. Instead of facing prison or charges for some regulation you had no intention of breaking, you can now take your firearm — after it sets alarms blazing — back out of the security line and back to your car, or wherever, and they leave you alone. Which is as it should be. Federal officers aren’t bound by this, only state, but the feds are cool with it so far.

No blood, no foul. No one was harmed, no bad intentions — mens rea in Latin legalese. It’s just possession of private property and in Texas, as they say, everyone has a gun except for a few crackpots. Countless hundreds of people get turned away at gates, where security officials are running security theater. You miss your plane? Tough luck, and you should know better. But did they just save the plane?

Increasingly, people are getting fed up with security theater, intrusive visible measures to give a sense of security without providing much — or any. Folks are seeking laws like Texas’ to fix the problems created, and not just for flying. Arguments suggest security theater, aside from the outrageous expense, may actually decrease security. Unintended consequences abound, like, herding hundreds of unprotected unarmed citizens on the un-cleared side of airport security gates.

Critics charge it misallocates scarce funds, provides a false sense of security and lowers peoples’ guard. The drama is a tool of harassment empowering authorities needlessly. It teaches citizens to behave, stand in line, follow orders, invades privacy, eradicates constitutional protections and at airports is an endless federal jobs program. Employees join the American Federation of Government Employees, a democrat voting bloc — and massive contributor to the party.

Modern invasive common and growing security measures are a necessary evil, proponents assure you, foisted upon us by corrupted religious zealots and psychos. Religious fanatics (and psychos) have indeed attacked us repeatedly in numerous ways, and have co-opted some of our leaders and institutions. Our own leaders, too often, respond insisting disarming us and forcing us into lines will make us safe (and docile).

Evidence shows it does nothing of the sort (well, maybe the docile part), but it does make the weak feel good, takes wind from the sails of the strong, and morphs the very character of America’s spirit. Security theater, to the extent that’s what it is, is Theater of the Absurd, and does harm.

Background Check Act

After billions of dollars and more than two decades of the NICS background check system, we’ve barely arrested enough criminals to stage a show. Oh, we’ve denied millions of people their constitutional rights without a trial, but no one has shown whether any true criminals identified were actually prevented from arming themselves, or how the fortune spent kept us safer. But it sounds-good-seems-right, so we’re poised on expanding it — and registering every gun owner in the next act.
Criminals of course can’t be registered in that grand play — it violates their right against self-incrimination. They can’t bear arms in the first place — so only the innocent are registered — true theatrical fiction. Media remains mum.

Bruce Schneier, writing in New Internationalist in November, 2009, noted, “No one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards.” He invented the term security theater for his book Beyond Fear (2003).

Walking up to an entry point heavily armed is simple, doing irreparable harm is easy, access without a card isn’t impossible. If trouble goes down, the idea everyone inside is equipped with plastic cards instantly makes no sense at all. Except to the attacker.

Authorities respond to outcries. If the clamor is for security, especially post-atrocity, something will be done even if it isn’t possible. The appearance of something will happen. It’s human nature. It “makes a statement” as they say. You want more than what officials provide? You’re on your own. You always have been. Entrust your security to others, get the quality of service “people in charge” provide. If your life depends on it, well, there it is.

Look Over Your Shoulder

Next time you fly, test the waters with “Felony observation of TSA checkpoints.” Not really of course, this is just free theatrical exercise. From a comfortable spot, simply observe your fellow travelers as they arrive and deal with the hassle. Feel free to profile freely, it’s fun, spot obvious oversights, under attentions, missed clues, demeanors, suspicious things, agents preoccupied, none of which matter. Estimate cost vs. safety provided, times the gates where you are, times the checkpoints nationally, per day. The enemy (that’s why checkpoints exist, right?) is costing us a fortune. Meanwhile, attendants freely move, here’s one in a black hijab, completely ignored, no problem. No profiling, remember?

And make-believe gun-free-zone establishments? With nothing but signs banning guns, they give theater of the absurd a bad name. Reckless, negligent and dangerous, they create massive liability for their owners.

Back On The Farm

A tale in gun-friendlier states, when CCW permits started, claimed nothing really changed, “It just made us all legal.” Yuk, yuk, very funny. Those were days of very discreet carry because you knew you were in violation. You risked arrest for illegal carry in some random theatrical cop-stop with little connection to crime, in favor of protection against the greater risk posed by possible criminal assault, and getting caught unarmed. You knew instinctively crime posed a greater threat than government. Still true?

So what does this have to do ultimately with sidearms today? When bad players actually start acting out, usually the only security in the whole damn theater is the security you can provide, for yourself, until security arrives — after the nick of time.

Alan Korwin’s website features plain-English books on state and federal gun laws for the public. He invites you to write to him or see his work, at

American Handgunner March/April 2017

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