TSA screeners at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport forced a traveler to abandon her "gun-themed" shoes and bracelets last Saturday. The woman, who had the items in a carry-on bag, was told she could take them only if she put them in her checked luggage. She discarded them rather than miss her flight.
There is no question this was an embarrassing incident, but exactly who should be embarrassed is a matter of dispute. TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein, who called attention to the de facto confiscation on Twitter, clearly thinks it shows the agency's employees are on the ball, keen to enforce its ban on "realistic replicas of firearms" in carry-on bags. "Friendly reminder from @TSA: Realistic replica firearms and ammunition are not permitted past TSA checkpoints," Farbstein tweeted.
These shoes and bracelets hardly seem to qualify as realistic replicas, assuming the rationale for the ban is preventing hijackers from using fake guns to take control of an airplane. But according to the TSA's blog, the problem is that items resembling weapons "can cause significant delays" because TSA experts "must respond to resolve the alarm." In other words, the TSA wastes time on nonsense because otherwise it would end up wasting time on nonsense.
TSA screeners do occasionally come across actual firearms—an average of seven a day last year, up from two a day in 2005. Yet last year CNN reported that "airport screeners failed to detect explosives and weapons in nearly every test that an undercover team conducted at dozens of airports." They missed the test items 95 percent of the time.
But at least travelers are occasionally punished for questionable fashion choices. Farbstein described the footwear and jewelry discovered at BWI on Saturday as "shoes and bracelets that are less than ideal to wear or bring to a @TSA checkpoint." She added that "these delayed a traveler at BWI." Actually, I think the TSA did that.