A scandal in Chicago


I don't know about you, but if a friend called me and said he was in jail in Chicago for "felony aggravated unlawful use of a weapon," I'd figure he'd done something pretty bad — pistol-whipped a blind newsboy within an inch of his life in order to steal his tin can full of quarters, or something.

The important background to this little story, which occupied about four inches on page 3B of Monday's Review-Journal, has to do with what government agents almost universally said when folks (including me) initially raised a fuss about these warrantless searches at our airports.

I'm talking about before the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

It was before that date, back before I decided to give up traveling round the country doing book-signings, back before I decided I had no choice but to boycott an air travel system that routinely tramples and defecates on our Bill of Rights, that I saw my carry-on bag run through an X-ray machine at Theodore F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I. -- "randomly selected" I suppose -- whereupon the gal asked me to pull out the pair of scissors in my shaving kit and let her see them. I did so. She then apologized and let me put them back in my bag and carry them on. "Things look bigger on the screen," she said.

Americans aren't trusted with scissors of any size, nowadays.

It was before September of 2001 that I got into a standoff with a carry-on inspector at the municipal airport in Colorado Springs, Colo. Again, this concerned my carry-on bag. "Would you open your bag?" the goon asked me. I responded carefully: "If you believe you have some authority to order me to open my bag, do so and I'll open it. But if you're asking me whether I'd VOLUNTARILY like to open my bag, the answer is no." The goon responded by asking: "Would you open your bag?" I responded: "If you have some authority to order me to open my bag, do so and I'll be happy to open it. But if you're asking me whether I'd like to VOLUNTEER to open my bag, the answer is no." I'm not kidding, here. The goon proceeded to ask again: "Would you open your bag?"

After about 12 minutes of this we'd gathered a crowd of almost a dozen officials wearing all kinds of different badges, including two uniformed cops with their hands on their guns. It was one of the city cops who had enough a of a cerebrum to finally interrupt this little Kabuki and say, "It is voluntary because you're free to leave here without having your bag searched. You're free to go take a Greyhound bus and not be searched. But we're not going to let you onto one of our planes unless you let him search that bag." At that, I complied, without bothering to ask the cop how he came to own all those airplanes. They all looked terrible disappointed when the only thing that turned up were my dirty socks.

And now to Monday's story. The Chicago Tribune originally reported, Sunday: "A Nevada man got himself arrested Saturday night after acknowledging to Greyhound security officers that he did indeed have weapons and ammunition in his luggage, authorities said.

"About 7:30 p.m. Saturday, as part of a routine security inquiry to all passengers getting on the Greyhound bus at the South Loop station, Daniel Fenstemacher was asked if he had any weapons with him, police said.

"Fenstemacher, 52, of the 600 block of Record Street in Reno, replied that he did, police said, and he was detained while weapons and ammunition were recovered from his luggage, which was already on the bus.

"The bus line’s security officers alerted police to a .17-caliber revolver and a .380-caliber revolver in his bag, prosecutors said. He also had a knife, prosecutors said. Fenstemacher was then arrested and charged with felony aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, police said. Cook County Criminal Court Judge Edward Harmening ordered Fenstemacher held in lieu of $50,000 bail Sunday."

For the record, a .17-caliber weapon is a pellet gun. A .380 is a very small firearm -- an ankle gun.

Washington is full of "scandals," these days. We're told it's a "scandal" that GSA employees, holding a meeting in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, spent $3,200 to hire a mind-reader as part of a recent party and awards program. We're told it's a "scandal" that off-duty Secret Service officers and U.S. military personnel visited a strip club and paid for the time of some prostitutes — a legal enterprise in Bogota, as it is in much of Nevada — prior to the arrival of President Obama for a summit conference in Colombia, last week.

No, I'm not happy to see government employees making frivolous use of our hard-earned (and reluctantly surrendered) tax dollars. But come on. Washington spends billions of dollars a minute paying farmers not to farm, or employing robot drones in rocket attacks on Afghan villagers in an effort to turn their loyalties back to the Taliban as the only folks who can keep us from destroying the livelihood they earn from their main cash crops, opium and hashish. The Latin American leaders at that little summit in Bogota pleaded in vain with President Obama to consider dialing back the thousands of murders happening in their country each year by legalizing and normalizing the trade in marijuana and cocaine. But nobody in Washington finds any of those things to be "scandals." Nor does anyone but me seem to find it a "scandal" that -- in a country with a Constitution that specifies "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" -- where since 1868 that Prohibition has been extended through the 14th Amendment to cover the enactments of state and local governments including those of Illinois and Chicago, where the Supreme Court has confirmed at least since the Miller case in 1939 that the government cannot ban possession of any weapon "of militia usefulness" ... an otherwise blameless Nevada man now sits in jail in Chicago because he didn't see any reason to lie when they asked him if he had a handgun in the luggage he had allowed them to load onto a BUS -- the very method of conveyance they used to insist we were free to use if we didn't want to have our bags searched at the airport, thus proving all their airport malarkey didn't require a warrant, since we were submitting to it VOLUNTARILY.

But that is a scandal. A real one.