Be Safe–Or Else

From Boing-Boing, gun necklace stopped by TSA

“Be safe!” my well-wishing co-workers and neighbors said, sending us off to South Dakota last week. I’ll have a longer riff on the topic of safety in light of our checkered history in that regard to, from and with our grand daughters for five days.

Safety, of course, is a good thing. But there can be too much of it, smothering, oppressive and Orwellian at a certain point when vigilance is overwhelmed by fear, justified or not.

A half dozen times the tiny Case knife has made it through airport security. Fact is, until yesterday, I’d forgotten it was even in the mesh bag of random parts–thumb drive, lip balm, paper clips, pocket change, ball point pens, post-ems and such–that is always in the top zippered compartment of my bookbag.

“Who’s bag is this?” asked the TSA lady in an overly-accusatory tone. “Step aside please” and this was obviously a big deal. “You’ll have to check this in your luggage” she said, showing me the tiny knife.

“I thought blades up to two inches were allowable” I told her.

“No blade is allowable” she said emphatically, and my impulse was to push the issue.

“How about an eight of an inch? A sixteenth? How crazy is that? What kind of threat of mass destruction could someone wreak with a inch-long blade like that? Couldn’t a deranged physical therapist do more harm with a metal ballpoint pen like the one in the same bag as the dwarf knife? Will my wife and I be required to trim our fingernails the next time we are unfortunate enough to have to fly again, God help us?”

But of course I told her to enjoy her new knife, shuffled sockfooted to the nearest dirty seat and put my shoes and my attitude back where they should be, more or less.

I thought my situation was obsurd. It gets weirder than that. Put your hands in the air, this is a stickup. Image and story from BoingBoing.

Will the pendulum swing back towards vigilance with reason? Will we someday be shackled and muzzled as we enter the concourse turnstile for the sake of the greater good of society? Will the future of “safe” be good for us? What’s lost in our excess of caution? Far more than our tiny airport trinkets.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. It’s not just the airlines. At the Montgomery County Courthouse, nail clippers are banned and seized is someone happens to have one in their pocket.

    Floyd County Circuit Clerk Wendell Peters had to surrender his nail clippers when he entered the court house.

    Be glad you stifled your urge to mouth off. If you had your next stop would have been a windowless cell at Gitmo.

  2. When traveling with my son (two months old at the time), I was told to remove him from the baby seat he was sleeping in. When I asked if they could check him out without removing & waking him, the TSA glared and stated, “He could be hiding a GUN!” 🙄

  3. Yeah Doug, and I just heard the other day, that the Bush Admin is fighting to prevent Fred from filing a complaint after he’s sent to Gitmo, protesting the fact that he shouldn’t be there to begin with.

    If Bush has his way, once you get sent to Gitmo, rightly or wrongly, you ain’t coming out.

  4. Fred–Your experiences mirror mine. I never carry a purse–well, I own one, but it rarely gets carried–BUT once took it on a trip for some unknown reason. I had totally forgotten that it had the little knife in it. Lost that one to TSA. I refrained from pointing out the one they missed that was in the bag with my thumb drives. Don’t blab everything you know, my mom taught me.

    Scissors can be carried through–as long as the blades are under a certain length (3 inches?) I had carefully purchased a pair, specifically for travelling, that was within the required restriction. My last two flights out of Wichita KS, the TSA agent has insisted upon fishing it out (of the bag with the thumb drives and you-know-what) and measuring the blade. I guess a 3-inch pointy blade on a scissor is not as dangerous as a 1/2-inch semi-point blade on a “knife”. Go figure!

  5. Groan. I would expect all your readers to chime in on this subject. My attitude always gets so grumped up that it takes hours to settle down. I just can’t help making flying a miserable experience. Last flight, to new Zealand, I noticed how ultra charming the security folks were, just like you should be if tourism is important to your economy. Well, tourism is important to the US, too, but you would never know it by dealing with the TSA folks. Nasty!! They couldn’t possibly be getting any training in courtesy.
    I just can’t get up for seeing parts of the world requiring flying any more. It looks like RV travel is it for us, even with the gas prices what they are.