The silly charade that passes for security at American airports is more disturbing to those of us who resent being treated like prisoners. I once received an e-mail critical of my pointing and laughing at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) buffoonery. It’s author said he would gladly crawl on his hands and knees to board a plane if it increased his safety. In a free market system, there would be flights for guys like him and others for those of us less fond of ritual humiliation.
Left to their own devices, airlines would very likely offer low-security armed flights where passengers could carry their own legal weapons and high-security unarmed flights for those who like the current system and think that styling mousse, bottled water, and sneaker bombs are a real danger. The armed flights would not fly empty.
I’m reminded of this, of course, by my latest brush with TSA efforts to protect us. I arrived just a little late for a flight from Myrtle Beach to Detroit. I had spent the previous week with my two sons at a rifle marksmanship training camp run by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association. We were camping. Camping is what you do if you eschew sleep, enjoy sand in your food, and can’t resist piling your belongings in a jumbled mass in the trunk of your car.
At a rifle training camp, ammo is a large part of the jumbled mass. Unknown to me, a box of rifle ammo, 20 rounds, found its way from the jumbled mass into my computer bag sometime during the week. The eagle eyed agent at the airport x-ray machine found it.
I said, “Sorry, I didn’t know they were in there.”
He said, “This is contraband material.”
I said, “I thought as much. But bullets aren’t very dangerous without a gun to shoot them.”
“They contain flammable material,” he said.
“So do my farts,” I said, “but I’d have to have some way to touch them off. Lighters aren’t allowed either, are they?”
“Do you have a gun?” he asked, even though I had just passed through a metal detector, had been wanded by his associate, and was carrying rifle ammunition, which requires a three foot long, 10 pound rifle for its use.
“Not with me,” I said. He appeared glad to hear that.
“I can mail them to you,” he offered helpfully.
“That won’t be necessary,” I replied, “my flight leaves in 15 minutes and I have to get to the gate. You can keep them.”
That’s when I found out that I had a special class of contraband, even though without a rifle, rifle ammunition is no more dangerous than anything else the size and shape of a rifle cartridge.
“You’ll have to wait here for the sheriff’s deputies,” he said.
“My plane leaves in 15 minutes. These bullets aren’t any more dangerous than a pocket knife. Can’t you just keep them?” I asked.
“Our procedure requires us to do a background check.” He answered.
The background check took over half an hour. Everyone was as nice as they could be. No one could explain how a background check would improve the safety of the airplane I was about to miss. Background checks, after all, are only required by law for the purchase of guns, not the possession of ammo. It was never clear just what would have happened if it turned out I wasn’t qualified to own a gun.
Not wishing to add a night in jail to my now valueless ticket and hotel reservation, however, I remained calm, if somewhat less cheerful than usual.
The deputy guarding me during the investigation chatted ruefully about how expensive ammo had become in the last year. “Yeah,” I agreed, “this box alone is going to cost me around $500 if I miss my plane. I don’t suppose you could let me catch my plane and arrest me in Detroit when I land if anything bad shows up on the report?”
“Sorry,” he said without much sympathy.
The report arrived declaring me a model citizen, my record without criminal stain. I was free to go, but not to Detroit. There is no other flight that will get me there before the next evening, too late for the event I was to attend.
It’s true, I’m out $500 and missed an event I greatly wanted to attend, but I’m comforted knowing the skies over the Land of the Free are as safe as a silly, mindless bureaucracy can make them.