As I've said before, we can't just assume everyone at the TSA is an idiot and/or a petty bureaucrat drunk on his or her semi-power. This story confirms that.
It suggests that only 40 to 80 percent of them are.
In an email to Reason magazine, Sean Malone reports that TSA agents at LAX stole his belt buckle, which apparently looked like this. He had it in a carry-on bag, so it's under-standable that they might want to take a closer look after a shape like this appears on the X-ray monitor. In a sane world the agent would look at it, see it's a belt buckle, and move on to the next traveler. Of course, that's not this world.
He didn't seem like an idiot, but he called his supervisor over…. She said, "Listen, you can either go back out of security and put this in your check[ed] luggage (which I don't have), or we'll confiscate it."
But this is honestly my favorite belt buckle, and I'm me, so … 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." [Here "take action against" is bureaucratese for "shoot you."]
Now… Let's leave aside for a second that the entire premise behind this argument is that police officers are too dumb [to distinguish] a dangerous weapon from a belt buckle in the shape of a 1950s 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.
Normally logic will only infuriate a petty bureaucrat (don't get me wrong, we need bureaucrats, just not the petty ones), so Malone had better luck with his next tactic: appealing to a higher-level bureaucrat. That doesn't always work, but this time it did: "Eventually the woman came back, curtly handed me the buckle and said, 'Here you go. Have a good flight, sir.'" No apology, of course.
Giving the level-one guy the benefit of the doubt, then this would be a defect rate of just one in three. But this was just the outbound flight. On the way back, the same thing happened. And this time, Malone writes, he was running late and didn't have time "to argue up the chain of command" until he found someone sensible. Citing the policy against "replica weapons," the level-two agent there insisted on confiscating the ray-gun-shaped belt buckle. (So, two out of five?)
In fact, that policy prohibits only "realistic replicas of firearms" in carry-on bags. Since handheld ray guns do not exist, it seems fairly obvious that there could not be a realistic replica of one. And even if there could be, theoretically, this was not one. It was a BELT BUCKLE.
But then we are talking about people who have, on more than one occasion, had similar issues with lightsabers.