Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
In addition to the usual batch of reader questions this week, I’m also including some reader feedback.
Many of you wrote in with your thoughts on whether or not felons should be allowed to own firearms. I want to keep the conversation going, so I figured I’d share some of your letters.
That being said, let’s tackle your questions first:
I had the tactical pen I bought several weeks ago confiscated in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. The interesting thing is that it made it through TSA screening in Cincinnati just fine for my trip to Texas. The TSA supervisor in Dallas smirked when I told him I bought it online from you and said that I should not believe the hype surrounding this product — whatever that meant. I knew then that I had made the right decision to purchase it. I sent a request to customer service for another order form, so I can purchase another. I will have to be more careful going through security in the future. Any additional tips I can use to answer TSA questions would be appreciated. The “it is just a well-made pen” argument did not sit well with that TSA agent.
— Dave Q.
The thing is, Dave, a TSA agent can confiscate any item they think is dangerous. Some agents won’t raise concern over a tactical pen while others will take it away in a heartbeat.
I don’t advise getting into a prolonged argument with TSA, because you really have no chance of winning — even if you’re right. If you’re ever questioned over your tactical pen again, just casually insist it’s a pen you use for writing.
When I travel with my tactical pen, I put the cap on the business end and throw it in my laptop bag with my other writing implements. It rarely even gets noticed. I’ve crisscrossed the nation with it and never had an issue.
Does using a bump key on a lock destroy the lock? Will I need to by a new lock?
— Margot W.
When you use a bump key, you shouldn’t be hitting the key very hard — you only need a small amount of force to make the driver pins jump.
If you constantly practice on the same lock, the lock might wear down over time. But a few tries won’t do any damage.
I love all the information you give! My question is what kind of wood to use for a smokeless fire if I have to cook over one, especially if I don’t want to be noticed?
— Patty M.
The most important factor in creating a smokeless fire is using very dry wood. You also want to use small pieces of wood, because adding large amounts of fuel at once usually creates more smoke.
You might see a small amount of smoke at first, but once the fire really starts burning, slowly add small, dry twigs. You want the fire to use all the fuel you provide to keep it smokeless. When you’re finished cooking, use a liberal amount of dirt to extinguish the fire — this will also reduce the amount of smoke that lingers.
You should also check out my recent article “Choosing an Emergency Stove,” which includes recommendations for survival stoves that use kerosene, propane and other kinds of fuel that won’t produce any smoke.
Now for a few inquiries about the survival keychain — a simple tool that can stop a mugger in his tracks, stun a would-be rapist before he can cause any harm or disorient an attacker long enough for you to get to safety.
I ordered the survival keychain today, but I don’t completely understand how to use it the proper way. Please clarify this for me.
— Jerry F.
Sure thing, Jerry. The survival keychain — also known as the “monkey fist” — serves many purposes. Most importantly, it can be used to strike someone in self-defense so you can escape. It can also be used to break out a car window if you’re trapped inside.
The keychain is made out of paracord wrapped around a 1” steel ball at the end. On its own, the paracord can be used to escape rope or zip ties, replace broken shoelaces, splint broken fingers or tie up almost anything.
I certainly hope you never have to use the monkey fist to defend yourself, but if you ever need to inflict maximum damage with minimum effort to disorient an attacker so you can get away, you’ll be glad you’ve got this handy tool on your key ring.
Does your survival keychain have a metal or wooden ball? Can you retie the knot after taking it apart?
— Henry U.
The survival keychain has a 1” solid steel ball wrapped in paracord. If you are familiar with knot tying, you can retie the knot around the ball. However, it may not be as strong or as tight as the original knot, which might cause the steel ball to fly out when you try to strike someone or something. I’ve definitely seen this happen.
I just got your survival keychain. Love it! Can I carry this on an airplane?
— Tamra B.
Yes, Tamra, you can fly with the survival keychain. In fact, I flew to New York last month with mine.
Finally, as promised, here are some of the thoughtful comments I received about my article “Should Everyone Be Allowed to Own Guns?”
I’m glad you brought this up. What makes a nonviolent felon unworthy of owning a firearm? I believe that the right to self-defense is a HUMAN right. I highly doubt that such a position wound ever be advocated for by the U.N., although it should be. Because one has broken a law that meets the definition of a felony, is that person so reprehensible that s/he should be defenseless when attacked by a violent attacker? To answer this question, I think we must ask what would the greater good be? If the convicted felon were given that status by a court for a nonviolent offense, there is no compelling reason to trump his human right of self-defense. On the other hand, if he were convicted of a violent felony, then being disarmed would be a logical consequence, since the protection of the public serves the greater good.
— Derek W.
Thanks for your feedback, Derek. You bring up some great points about a person’s right to defend themselves.
I agree applicants ought to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. However, I would go one step further… everyone should be taught about guns — like learning how to crawl, walk and communicate.
— Edward M.
Thanks for bringing up the issue of education, Edward. I think learning gun safety and responsible gun ownership go hand in hand.
The Second Amendment says “shall not be infringed.” “Shall” in legal terms (and I am a lawyer) means that it is mandatory to do what follows that word. That means the bottom line is that everyone should be allowed to own a gun. Practically, some people have to be restricted, because we know that some people will definitely hurt others if allowed such a freedom. However, the law as it stands was made in a time when a felony meant something really bad was done, not crimes like petty theft with a prior and the thousands of nonviolent offenses that have been deemed felonies over the years. The system needs to be overhauled; the 1968 Gun Control Act was virtually copied from the Nazi gun laws. Anyone with a sense of fair play understands that bad guys give up their act and become good guys again. Let’s keep this topic up. It’s vital to freedom.
— Sam P.
Thank you, Sam. As I said, that’s exactly why I want to keep the conversation going.
That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org for future mailbags.