During an appearance on FoxNews Thursday, Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (R-CO) dismissed the idea of common-sense gun reform following the latest school shooting, when a teenager who legally purchased a semi-automatic rifle killed 19 students and two teachers in Texas.
“My firearm is my equalizer,” Boebert told Sean Hannity, before making what aviation experts say was a baffling analogy. “When 9/11 happened, we didn’t ban planes. We secured the cockpits.”
“Her position is just ridiculous,” says Bryan Del Monte, a former Pentagon official during the George W. Bush administration who is currently the president of the Aviation Agency, a marketing firm catering to the aviation industry. “Yeah, we didn’t ban planes. But we also didn’t do nothing.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, the government, quickly and in bi-partisan fashion, made enormous, sweeping changes to air travel — including putting in place a raft of rules and restrictions for travelers that still remain today.
It began with a massive investigation into how terrorists were able to hijack aircraft and turn them into weapons. “We had the 9/11 commission, which went through a gajillion pages of information and testimony,” says Del Monte.
What followed was a complete overhaul of aviation security in no time flat. “At the time, airport security was largely an outsourced function,” says Del Monte.
But less than two months after the attacks, President Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Administration Act, which created the TSA, an agency that now employs more than 50,000 officers responsible for security at 440 federalized airports.
Soon afterward, in December 2001, after “shoe bomber” Richard Reid attempted to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes on a flight from Paris to Miami, passengers were required to remove their footwear at airport security checkpoints.
So in less than three months, air passengers had gone from being able to stroll through security a few minutes before a flight to having to produce a photo ID, remove their shoes and go through X-ray security screening before boarding airplanes. Loved ones were no longer able to accompany passengers right to the gate to see them off.
And following other terrorist attempts came more restrictions. In 2006, after a terrorist plot to detonate liquid explosives on at least 10 flights from the United Kingdom to the U.S. and Canada, airline passengers were in for more restrictions, as the TSA banned all liquids, gels and aerosols from carry-on luggage. A month later, the rule was eased to create the 3-1-1 rule, limiting liquids and gels to containers no bigger than 3.4 ounces in a resealable one-quart bag. This rule is still in place.
In 2017, following an “increased threat to aviation security,” the TSA began requiring most travelers to remove laptops and other electronic devices larger than a cellphone from carry-on luggage. Only passengers who have been prescreened through TSA PreCheck can skip this step.
As Rep. Boebert may know, the main priority of TSA officers is to keep weapons or explosives from making their way on aircraft. Last year, the agency caught a record-breaking 5,972 firearms at airport checkpoints, the most ever — a 35% jump from the 4,432 guns found in 2019, before Covid-19 caused air passenger volume to plummet.
Perhaps most alarming, more than 80% of the firearms seized at airport security checkpoints are loaded, according to TSA records.
An airline passenger is permitted to travel with a firearm as long as it is unloaded and packed in checked baggage, separately from ammunition, in a locked hardback case and declared at the airline check-in counter. “The airline will make sure it gets placed in the belly of the plane,” a TSA spokesperson said. “In addition, people who want to travel with their firearms need to know the gun laws in the jurisdictions they are flying to and from.”
Notably, laws prohibiting guns on planes have been in place for decades — since long before the TSA existed, and before the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001.
But 9/11 fundamentally changed air travel. “The structure of the national security apparatus changed in order to respond to and mitigate the effects and loss of life from such a terrorist attack,” says Del Monte. “If we were to do so with respect to gun violence, that would require the federal government to do a serious look at the cause of why kids get their hands on weapons and why they’re able to go into schools.”
Lauren Boebert’s office is closed for the holiday weekend and could not be reached for comment.