Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The TSA Stole My Belt Buckle... For Safety.

I am livid. Angry. Filled with rage.

A few minutes ago (as of this posting, a few hours), I lost my favorite belt buckle to the TSA at Los Angeles International Airport, because - they claimed - it was a "replica" of a gun.

What kind of a gun, you might ask?

A 1950s Flash Gordon-style RAYGUN!! A fictional weapon. A child's toy.

Here it is:

A photo posted by CitizenA Media (@citizenamedia) on

On my flight out to LA, I dealt with the same issue with an imperious and stupid TSA supervisor who tried to take the buckle under the same pretenses at DCA until I protested long enough for her to get the top level supervisor in the terminal.

I wrote about that event on Facebook when it happened two days ago:
"Now that I'm in a restaurant in Philly, I have time to share more of the stupidity. First, they did a bag check, which happens to me every time I fly anyway, so who cares. When I walked over, the guy said, "Yeah, there's something in there that's kind of shaped like a gun," to which I replied, "Yeah. It's a belt buckle."

He pulled it out of the bag and looked at it. Yep. Belt buckle. He didn't seem like an idiot, but he called his supervisor over, who instantly made it clear to me that she was one of those petty authoritarian, logic-impaired idiots you often come to expect in positions of middling power in law enforcement. Her word was law... Even when, you know, it wasn't actually law. She said, "Listen, you can either go back out of security and put this in your check luggage (which I don't have), or we'll confiscate it."

But this is honestly my favorite belt buckle, and I'm me, so - realizing I was speaking with a woman with the brainpower of a block of Parmesan cheese - I looked at her and said, "You understand that this is a belt buckle, right? It is not a danger to the safety of anyone nor is it against the law to carry. I have also traveled with this belt buckle all over the country and it's never been a problem. So please explain to me how exactly you would justify taking it."

Her response was to suggest a hypothetical scenario. "What if", she postulated, "you take this object out of your bag and point it - like a gun - at a police officer? He would have no choice to assume that it was a gun, and take action against you."

Now... Let's leave aside for a second that the entire premise behind this argument is that police officers are too dumb and hopped up on their own power that they can't recognize a dangerous weapon from a belt buckle in the shape of a 1950's toy ray gun. I'm glad she recognized this reality, but I don't think she really processed what it says about law enforcement in America. But leaving that aside... Why in the hell would I ever take my belt buckle and point it at a police officer?

To this, she had no answer.

She also had no answer to the point that even if I did that, it would represent a danger to me and not, say... an airplane full of people.

At this point, she got red in the face and loudly declared that she wasn't going to argue with me or "have a debate about this". "You have two options. That's it," she said. So I asked to speak with *HER* supervisor. Fine. She took the belt buckle and walked it over to some other guy far out of earshot and talked to him for a bit while someone else came over and talked to me. Also seemed like a fairly reasonable guy.

Eventually the woman came back, curtly handed me the buckle and said, "Here you go. Have a good flight, sir.""
By the way, while fighting me over my belt buckle, the TSA had absolutely no problem with the straight razor blade I had in my suitcase for shaving. Not that they should, but... At least terrorists have actually used razor blades in a major attack. I cannot say the same about a belt buckle made to look like a Flash Gordon prop.

Needless to say, on my return flight to DC, I assumed that I would deal with the same nonsense and kept the buckle outside of my bag and put it in one of the plastic tubs, hoping that it would be easier for them to clearly see what it was and why it was posed absolutely no danger to anyone.

Unfortunately, I had left my hotel too late and LA traffic was terrible as per usual, so by the time I arrived at the airport, my plane was already boarding. So when the officers took the buckle and called their supervisor to ask about what they should do, I simply did not have time to battle them up the chain of command again. Instead of miss my flight, I had no choice but to leave it with them.

I'm also kicking myself (again) for not recording the whole thing. I was so busy looking at the clock and worrying about missing my flight that I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. Plus, I think that in spite of everything I've seen and experienced, and in spite of everything I know to be true about the growing police-state in America, and my philosophical beliefs, I think I STILL subconsciously hold onto a mental model of people in uniform that says, "If you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to worry about."

This mental model is and always has been incorrect.

But seriously wrap your minds around what this means. Our "Transportation Security Administration" cannot recognize the difference between the following things:
  1. A belt buckle and a prop replica.
  2. A fictional/toy gun that has never existed in human history outside of sci-fi & fantasy stories, and a firearm/weapon that actually exists.
  3. An object that poses a danger to others... and... a goddamn belt buckle.
I ran the whole way to my gate with my pants falling down as my belt had no way of fastening, and barely made my flight. I was the last person to board the plane.

Do I really need to go on a long-winded jag about how ridiculous this is? The TSA is busy protecting you from the scourge of novelty belt buckles. Meanhile, their track record of stopping an actual threat: terrible.

But on the upside, the TSA is really good at one thing: stealing items from travelers' luggage.

Are you angry? I am.


Anonymous said...

This is why I only carry my Pop Tart gun with me. When the TSA tells me it is a danger to the other passengers, I just eat it. Yum! But it sounds like the TSA witch you encountered would have had my stomach pumped to remove the weapon.

Henry Hawk said...

the TSA is a legal confiscation authority of the federal govenment. They have a license to steal and confiscate whatever they want. They will resell it and reap the rewards as there is no one that is there to protect the citizens interest.
In short, one of the agents wanted it for themselves and they took it.

Anonymous said...

"Now... Let's leave aside for a second that the entire premise behind this argument is that police officers are too dumb and hopped up on their own power that they can't recognize a dangerous weapon from a belt buckle in the shape of a 1950's toy ray gun."

Surely you jest:


Anonymous said...

In order to make docile, domesticated animals of American citizens, our Government herders are making us get Us used to being handled, prodded, herded, and abused at their whim. Every Alphabet Agency is drunk with power and looking for citizens to go after. Corruption in Government is the rule, not the exception.

Anonymous said...

Twolaneflash put his finger on it: We are being preconditioned to accept totalitarian rule. "Cower in place" is another preconditioning tactic. On command we are supposed to "stay", like good little doggies, while the "authorities" do their "jobs". I'm all out of quotation marks, so will have to stop now, but you get the drift. Everyone needs to raise holy hell every time this crap happens to the point these clowns understand we will not be "controlled". There, found a few more.

Anonymous said...

Better check to see what's missing from your luggage, too.

vrajavala said...

Don't forget that the TAX sells its spoils for profit. I'm sure this item would fetch a good price

nikalseyn said...

You obviously are unable to appreciate the benefits of a diverse government workforce.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

So you got to the airport late. I was a TSO for six years. We always advised passengers to be at the airport two hours before their flights. It was always a last minute passenger, stressed, who wined the most, over something like this. Had you had time, the TSA would have given you back your buckle.

Sean W. Malone said...

"So you got to the airport late. I was a TSO for six years. We always advised passengers to be at the airport two hours before their flights. It was always a last minute passenger, stressed, who wined the most, over something like this. Had you had time, the TSA would have given you back your buckle."

1. I addressed this already, as I went through exactly the same thing at DCA and had enough time to battle my way up the chain to get it back.


Sean W. Malone said...

Dear 6-year veteran of the TSA,

Can you tell the difference between a belt-buckle and a replica of a weapon?

Can you tell the difference between a replica of a firearm that actually exists and a replica of a raygun found exclusively in science fiction movies?

Can you tell the difference between objects that are dangerous, and objects that are not only not dangerous in and of themselves, but also don't even look like objects that are dangerous (because they don't actually exist)?

If you can't... You have/had NO BUSINESS pretending to have authority over other people in the name of their safety.

If you can, then you wouldn't suggest wasting two-hours of someone's valuable time (which in this case, would have meant leaving my hotel at 4 or 5am, by the way) making them fight over something that according to you would have been given back at the end.

If what I bring through security is ACTUALLY dangerous, I shouldn't get to keep it. If it's not dangerous, then you shouldn't waste people's time trying to take it.

Anonymous said...

.....is there no government agency that has not suffered from the incompetence of this administration?
I do admit we are winning the war on belt buckles and school lunches

Anonymous said...

I would seriously suggest watching for it to come up for sale on eBay.

Anonymous said...

The TSA's incompetence was obvious from the very beginning. They clearly hired from the bottom of the barrel when called upon to rapidly build the organization from scratch after 9/11, and they don't seem to have advanced much since. I once had to hassle with their supervisor at LAX for a good 15 minutes over the eye-glasses repair kit I carried, because she somehow believed it fit TSA's concept of a dangerous item.

Finally, she relented, but perhaps only because I happened to be the Captain of the particular transcontinental flight in question.

Ike said...

Just reading this for the first time.

You do realize that once you won your encounter at the first airport, that they were looking for you at the second. Your buckle was flagged, and would continue to be flagged, as a justification of the first officer's diligence.

You were going to lose it to them at some point. That's how you know your place.