Things you can’t bring on a plane: Scissors, gel candles, large snow globes.
Things you can bring on a plane: A homemade shotgun.
Programmer by day, “security researcher” by night, Evan Booth has built, tested, and demonstrated not just a shotgun, but a whole comically named arsenal of DIY weapons, made solely with items purchased in the airport—after the security screening.
“I think people have kind of been suspecting that the type of things I’ve built are possible,” says Booth, “I just don’t think anyone’s ever taken the time to do it.” The object of the research is a demonstration—half silly, half disturbing—that weapons are everywhere and that the "security theater" of the TSA is not doing that much to keep us safe.
"If we're trying stop a terrorist threat at the airport," says Booth. "It's already too late."
The project began after the introduction of body scanners. “It just seemed so invasive, really expensive,” he says. “And if you’re going to go through all that trouble getting into the terminal, why is all this stuff available in the terminal?”
The “stuff” Booth uses isn’t necessarily what you’d expect. Recurring ingredients include dental floss and magazines, Axe body spray, and condoms.
The deadly weapons these ingredients become arise from a combination of “MacGyver-esque” creative thinking and good old-fashioned research. To figure out how someone might build a bulletproof vest to protect against an air marshal's gun, Booth, says: “I specifically Googled ‘roughly how many pages can a 9 mm FMJ penetrate,'” he says. “I think it was around 500.”
The early weapons are low-tech. On his Terminal Cornucopia website—and in hilarious talks at security conferences—he shows how magazine-and-fridge-magnet “Chucks of Liberty” nunchucks can shatter a coconut, and a crossbow (“Cerrsberr”) made from umbrella ribs can put an arrow through a watermelon.
But some weapons pose what seems like a genuine threat. “That really only happened recently,” says Booth. He realized that airport stores sell lithium metal batteries, which, when combined with water, create a chemical reaction with enough heat to explode a bottle of Axe. This is what powers his “Blunderbussiness Class” shotgun, which he demonstrates shooting $1.33 in pocket change through a piece of drywall, as well as his “Fraguccino” thermos grenade. “Right now if I wanted to build something very potent, I would probably go toward lithium,” says Booth.
Before you call the FBI or the TSA, you might be slightly comforted to know that Booth says he’s been sending both agencies reports before putting any of the data online. So far the TSA hasn't called, but the FBI did come by for an unannounced visit. “That was really the first time that I knew someone had looked over the material and put together a report on their end,” he says. “That was encouraging.” He says their questions centered on whether he had actually assembled any weapons at the airport; he hadn’t. (He does his work in a garage and home office in Greensboro, North Carolina.)
Booth took the opportunity to ask them for research funding, but was told there was nothing available. “It would have been awesome if I’d had access to, like, a cockpit door,” he says.
He plans to continue as a freelancer, and has some chemicals as well as a stun gun in mind. But for now he's on hiatus, at least until his daughter is born in December. After that, he may have to figure out a new location for his work. “It pretty safe to say when I'm in build mode, my office is the least kid-friendly place on Earth,” he says.