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:
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."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.
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.""
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:
- A belt buckle and a prop replica.
- A fictional/toy gun that has never existed in human history outside of sci-fi & fantasy stories, and a firearm/weapon that actually exists.
- An object that poses a danger to others... and... a goddamn belt buckle.
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.