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American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law

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On September 11, 2001, millions of Americans watched in awe and horror as over a period of less than two hours, a succession of commercial airliners crashed first into the two World Trade Center towers in New York City, and then into the Pentagon in suburban Virginia. As government officials and news organizations scrambled in the first hours after the events to gather information, possible explanations for the crashes were offered. One theory was the obvious assumption that the planes had all been hijacked by "terrorists" using some kind of weapons (guns, bombs) that had presumably been smuggled onto the planes in circumvention of security procedures.

As more concrete information became available in the hours and days that followed, however, the actual circumstances appeared to deviate significantly from these early assumptions. One surprising discovery was that no firearms or explosives appeared to have been used in the attacks, and that the hijackers were able to overpower the flight crew and take over control of the four airplanes with what appeared to have been relatively small knives. This discovery was followed by the even more stunning realization that the weapons used by the hijackers were not prohibited by any applicable regulations, and therefore need not have been smuggled past airline security.

Attention then appropriately shifted from questions about the potential for a conspiracy involving the circumvention of airline and airport security regulations to the regulations themselves and the procedures for their implementation and enforcement. The most critical concerns were whether airport security regulations were sufficient to provide a reasonable level of safety for airline passengers (and the public as a whole) and/or whether sufficient mechanisms were in place to enforce the applicable regulations.



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