The TSA vs. Public Schools: Whose Safety Rules Are Dumber?


Jacob Sullum

Having lost several pretty nice pocket knives at airports over the years because I forgot to leave them at home or put them in a checked bag, I was pleased to hear that I do not have to worry about that anymore, thanks to the Transportation Security Administration's latest decree concerning what you may and may not carry onto a plane, which Scott Shackford noted here yesterday. But then I checked the fine print: The blade of your knife can be no longer than 2.36 inches (six centimeters). I am looking at my Leatherman Juice S2 right now, and I have a ruler, but I still am not sure whether it will pass muster. Although the actual blade of the knife is almost exactly six centimeters, I am a little worried that a persnickety TSA agent will count the additional centimeter or so of unsharp metal at the base of the blade. Do they seriously plan to measure the blades of pocket knives, or just eyeball them? ("Yep, that looks like six centimeters to me.") And not to rock the plane now that the TSA, after more than a decade, has finally come to its senses on this issue, but the blade on my newly permitted pocket knife is about twice as long as the blade of my still-prohibited box cutter.

I would also welcome the decision to allow souvenir baseball bats (no longer than 24 inches, please) in airplane cabins, except that I did not realize until now that they were banned. Also OK as of next month: actual, full-size billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, and golf clubs (limit: two). Again, not to make trouble, but if real baseball bats are still banned because they can function as weapons, it is hard to see why these other long, hard objects, some of which people actually have been known to use against home invaders or fellow bar brawlers, are now considered unthreatening. Does the TSA have something against America's Pastime? (That is what they call baseball, right?)

Jacob Sullum (artist's rendering)

I was planning to write a tongue-in-cheek post mocking the new TSA policy, but two things stopped me: Andy Borowitz already did that, and I read about the 7-year-old who was suspended for two days from Park Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, last Friday for allegedly saying "bang, bang" while holding a government-distributed, Pop-Tart-like pastry that he had chewed into a shape vaguely resembling a gun. As The Washington Post explains, there is some dispute about exactly what happened:

[William "B.J."] Welch [the boy's father] said an assistant principal at Park Elementary School told him that his son pointed the pastry at a classmate—though the child maintains he pointed it at the ceiling.

"In my eyes, it's irrelevant; I don't care who he pointed it at," Welch said. "It was harmless. It was a danish."

The Post notes that the boy's suspension is the latest in a series of questionable disciplinary decisions by school officials in the Washington, D.C., area (and elsewhere) who are determined to enforce a zero-tolerance policy regarding gun-related whimsy. Other highlights include the arrest (!) of a 10-year-old boy for showing his friends a toy gun while riding on a school bus and the suspension of a 5-year-old girl who talked about shooting a classmate…with a bubble-blowing Hello Kitty gun. So for those who complain that taxpayers do not get much return for the money they keep pumping into public education, here is something amazing that government-funded schools are accomplishing: They are making the TSA look sensible.

Addendum: Katherine Mangu-Ward was first to blog the gun-shaped pastry, followed by the Reason 24/7 mention I noted and a post by Jesse Walker. Look for a special issue of Reason devoted to the subject next month.

[Thanks to Ron Steiner and Mark Lambert for the links.]

NEXT: Talkin' John Birch History Blues

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  1. “It was harmless. It was a danish.”
    Hey, those butter bullets can cause a coronary!

    1. Go Primal!

  2. Am I still the only one who recognizes that students and passengers should be sedated and restrained to their seats? Or do we all like the thought of these potential time bombs cocked and ready to go off at the drop of a hat?


      1. You don’t want to have this argument; you lose every time.

        It’s not Bruckheimer’s fault that the artistry goes over your head.

        1. Bruckheimer didn’t direct it, Simon West did. Is this a filmography you want to tout?

          1. I’d rather have Michael Curtiz’s filmography, thank you very much.

            1. Yeah, and I’d rather have Sam Peckinpah’s. But it ain’t gonna happen.

              1. Sorry, boss, but there’s only two men I trust. One of them’s me, the other’s not you.

              2. He’ll show you where the Iron Crosses grow.

    2. I approve this concept. When I fly I keep my seat belt on and allow the cabin crew sedate me with drinks.

  3. “Whose Safety Rules Are Dumber?”


    1. Everybody’s a winner.

      1. Yep. I do have to give it to the public schools just for sheer variety of the stupid. They never run out of stupid.

  4. TSA! TSA! TSA!

  5. though the child maintains he pointed it at the ceiling.

    That’s not any better. There’s probably a classroom above the lunchroom.

    Sorry, the dad needs to have a serious talk with him about safe handling of frosted pastry.

    1. Isn’t brandishing pastry or other baked goods a felony in some jurisdictions?

      1. Yes. This student was obviously threatening his classmates with possible obesity.

  6. Considering the fact that I hate socialist schools I like all of their restrictions and stupidity. Perhaps if they finally go full retard the entire thing will get shut down. Don’t like the idiotic rules at a socialist school? Good, perhaps that will motivate you to not use them.

    If you are stealing from your neighbor to provide an “education” for your children you deserve all the bad that you get.

    1. Then who will pay for us to retire? OMG a generation of idiots that doesn’t have the skill to produce anything other than a pile of paper.

  7. Look for a special issue of Reason devoted to the subject next month.

    Um, what? An entire issue about gun-shaped pastries?

    1. I see you’re interested in a copy of playgirl. My aunt made $4,000 just typing the word playgirl last month.


  8. Isn’t it verboten?

  9. Don’t get too excited. I just heard the air marshals and flying waitresses are trying to get this rescinded.

    Too scary.

  10. Airline passengers will be able to carry small knives, souvenir baseball bats, golf clubs and other sports equipment onto planes beginning next month under a policy change

    That which is not explicitly allowed is prohibited.

  11. Jacob, I would lean “not permitted” on your knife. If my permissive ass was measuring the blade, I’d measure the entire thing past the hinge. Thinking your average TSA agent could start making judgments about where the actual honed part of the blade began, versus the blade steel in its entirety…yeah, that’s a stretch.

    1. True. You will lose your leatherman Jacob.

      The length rule is about the reach of the knife which includes the heel, not just the sharpened edge.

  12. Well, if this goes forward, at least we will have a bit of chance to defend the US if onboard a highjacked plane. A slight improvement, not much, not enough, but some.

    Hell, time to disband the TSA. Too little, too late!

  13. Love the alt text.

  14. It’s too bad I’m not a personal friend of John Pistole. I could get a lucrative contract making knife checking go/no-go gauges for every TSA checkpoint in America. A ten thousand per cent markup should be about right.

  15. The TSA is a joke, biggest WASTE of a\n agency tehre is. Period!


  16. If you think Johnny`s story is neat…, a month ago my girlfriend’s half sister basically also earned $6327 working a twelve hour week from their apartment and there co-worker’s step-mother`s neighbour was doing this for 10-months and easily made over $6327 part-time at there pc. applie the instructions on this web-site…

  17. government-distributed, Pop-Tart-like pastry”?

    What public school nutritionist approved that?

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