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John McCain, Chuck Schumer, and others question TSA for letting small knives on planes

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TSA-approved knives for carry on
TSA-approved knives for carry on

The TSA's move to allow small folding knives, miniature novelty baseball bats, and other sporting goods onto planes isn't a huge practical change for most flyers. But letting knives on board is a notable departure from post-9/11 policy, and last week's decision has sparked criticism from people who worry that any laxity will spell disaster — or who wonder why more innocuous-seeming items are still forbidden. Shortly after the TSA announced that new rules would go in place next month, the Flight Attendants Union Coalition denounced them as "poor and shortsighted," and Delta's CEO said he shared their "legitimate concerns." Now, politicians are entering the fray as well, calling for hearings or a reversal of the decision.

"Even a small blade in the hands of a terrorist can lead to disaster."

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been one of the most publicly outspoken, calling the new law "baffling" and asking the TSA to overturn it. "Now is not the time for reduced vigilance," he said in a statement, "or to place additional burdens on TSA agents who should be looking for dangerous items, not wasting time measuring the length of a knife blade." Several other restrictions, of course, are placed on the knives: they can't lock, for example, or have razor or box-cutter blades. But his general fear that the change will put people at risk is echoed by others. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) writes that "in the confined environment of an airplane, even a small blade in the hands of a terrorist can lead to disaster."

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), conversely, has suggested that TSA reforms need to go further. In an interview with Piers Morgan, McCain said that "my concern is that our TSA procedures have basically not changed in the last twelve years," citing long lines and invasive searches. "We need a congressional hearing on the whole issue of what is a danger to the entire flight." Elsewhere, jokes about the liquids ban are common: "TSA allows knives, still bans shampoo" could sum up most headlines on the subject.

Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), head of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has defended the change. "My priority is to make TSA more passenger-friendly and threat-focused," he said in a statement issued yesterday. "TSA must continue to improve its risk-based screening, and one of its highest priorities must be securing commercial aviation from the type of threats and weapons that could bring down an aircraft." That doesn't, he says, include small folding blades or pool cues. Currently, the new rules are set to go into effect on April 25th; on March 14th, the Committee on Homeland Security will hold a hearing about the TSA's security policies.