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.]