“At Some Point Doesn’t Common Sense Prevail?”

Another story that really needs the photo to be complete. First, the story, by contributor Alexander Cohen from True’s 15 December 2013 issue:

Security Theater, Puppet Style

A TSA agent at Missouri’s St. Louis International Airport said it was a gun. No, said Phyllis May, “it’s a prop for my monkey.” The thing was two inches long; it belonged to a monkey puppet. That didn’t stop the TSA agent. “If I held it up to your neck,” May says the agent told her, “you wouldn’t know if it was real or not.” “I said, really? You’re kidding me, right? And she said no, it looks like a gun.” May sells monkey puppets as part of her small business; she says the monkey involved is named “Rooster Monkburn” — a play on Rooster Cogburn, John Wayne’s character in the original True Grit. (AC/KING Seattle) …The TSA agent was just doing her job: disarming John Wayne and the American spirit.

And the photos, provided to the media by Ms May:

Rooster Monkburn's 'gun'
Larger-than-actual shot of the “gun” in question, which a TSA agent claims “you wouldn’t know if it was real or not”:


Rooster Monkburn
And “Rooster Monkburn” himself — fully armed!

“She took my monkey’s gun,” May told a reporter later. “Rooster Monkburn has been disarmed so I’m sure everyone on the plane was safe.”

The Crux of the Matter

Then in her comments to the reporter, Ms May added the kicker: “I understand she was doing her job, but at some point doesn’t common sense prevail?

The answer, as long-time readers certainly know, is no — not when zero tolerance thinking has been fully indoctrinated. What happens when kids, who are victimized by zero tolerance = zero thinking in schools, grow up and get jobs? They display the zero-thinking adherence to stupid policies as they were taught by example.

Don’t want random people carrying guns onto planes? Makes total sense! But, as per usual, a tiny toy is not a gun and anyone who can think for themselves knows that it isn’t with the quickest glance.

The agent didn’t call police, which means she knew the toy couldn’t be mistaken for a real gun. But she still confiscated it, just as a good zero thought tolerance adherent would.

So now I’m left wondering: is the TSA agent a puppet, or is TSA trying to make puppets of us all? Neither sounds very appealing.

Other examples of airline “Security Theater” are on this site here and here, just two I could think of right off the top of my head….

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25 Comments on ““At Some Point Doesn’t Common Sense Prevail?”

  1. OK, let’s see how ridiculous we can make them look. Make a cell phone case that shoots a cigarette filter (using a spring) when you push a button on the “cell phone”. It doesn’t LOOK like a gun, but you can show them that it COULD BE a gun. Then their zero tolerance must be activated so that no one can take a cell phone on any plane in the USA. How LONG will that LAST? Be prepared to spend some time with them when you do this.

  2. I saw this story on an online news site, and someone posted a comment claiming that this kind of gun can be fired. Obviously, a TSA agent in the making.

  3. The problem is, the questions you ask about Zero Tolerance make SENSE, Randy. Can’t have that in ANY government agency.

    Zero Tolerance policies need to be re-thought. First, however, we have to find someone with the power to make any changes who actually THINKS. That, I believe, will be a very tall order.

  4. To be fair, there are real guns of much the same size and appearance – they’re novelties firing the minuscule 2mm pinfire cartridge, but they are real. The security theatre has a lot of nonsense decisions, but this is one of the less nonsensical ones.

    Except that I can almost guarantee that if you look at the barrel from the front, you’ll see that it’s a solid piece, not hollow, and therefore cannot possibly be fired. Note the loop at the bottom: I believe this is simply a keychain fob. -rc

  5. Um, a pen doesn’t look like a gun but may be one, yet pens aren’t confiscated. True story: A TSA agent almost confiscated a spare refill for my Parker pen, b/c she said it looked like “a bullet.” A supervisor came over and said I could keep it. That miniature toy sixgun looks like a gun but obviously isn’t. A not-very-close inspection would have revealed that. My Parker refill was more dangerous.

  6. When I was 20 I started at The Hotelschool in The Hague. I had to buy a set of kitchen knives for the cooking classes. At Christmas I went home to my parents in the UK and I wanted to take the knives with me to show my Mum what I had learned. Of course I put them in my checked luggage to avoid problems.

    By the time I got to the airport, I was too late to check my bag, and I had to take it with me to the gate. I was so stressed from being late that I completely forgot about the knives in my suitcase.

    At Schiphol airport at that time, they had the security checks at the gate. When the put my suitcase through the scanner I suddenly remembered the knives, and thought ‘”oh no, now I’ve lost them. They’re going to take them.”

    The security guy asked if he could open my bag, and trying to be helpful and being resigned to the situation, I showed him the knives and said I think you’re looking for these.

    Oh! Said the security guard. You must go to the Hotelschool!

    Well, yes! I said, very surprised! (Apparently he had a friend with same knife set.)

    He said, I can’t lent you take these on board, but I can give them to the cabin crew and you can pick them up from them at the other end.

    Sure enough, once we landed I got my knives back. One of them was a foot long!

    Now that’s what I call common sense. Sometimes a student with knives is just a student with knives.

    But this was 20 years ago. Things have changed.

    Yes they have — and part of that change is not even allowing common sense. -rc

  7. A single shot gun can be made out of a mechanical pencil. That thought came to mind as I was passing through TSA in MIA last Friday, the 13th. Always my lucky day. I am a diabetic, and they wanted to take my water. I said, NO. They said okay, but they had to test it. I took a sip and told them I just did that and they said they had to do it anyway. I kept talking, and drinking it, and then told them to “go ahead.”

  8. This isn’t central to the point being made, of course, but I couldn’t help thinking about Randy’s comment, “Don’t want random people carrying guns onto planes? Makes total sense!” Does it? If law-abiding people on the ground can prevent crimes if they have guns, wouldn’t you feel safer if various random people on a plane (almost all of whom actually want to get to their destination) have guns? I would. Well, maybe guns in a pressurised cabin aren’t a good idea, but that applies to security staff just as much as to passengers. I would certainly like to see a ready supply of baseball bats to deal with any dangerous passengers when flying.

    That’s why I said “random” rather than “screened, trained, licensed people carrying guns.” But you’re right: that’s not central to the point, so I won’t let this page become a debate forum for that idea. -rc

  9. It’s not 0 thinking in this case, the TSA agent had to think to respond to Ms May’s question “If I held it up to your neck,” May says the agent told her, “you wouldn’t know if it was real or not.”

    The agent was obviously only thinking within the strict confines of her TSA rulebook (not out of the box) but she was thinking about the logic of her actions.

    We differ on the idea. When you must go by the rulebook rather than understand what the actual mission is and apply thought to whether the situation at hand qualifies as a problem or not, then you’re not thinking. -rc

  10. TSA and Common sense does not compute. Neither does school board and common sense.

    People are taking the world way too seriously!

    “God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.” –Mark Twain

  11. Could you really tell the difference between that and a pencil against your neck?

    Yeah: the pencil would make me nervous! -rc

  12. I experienced worse (though took it as funny/silly): I was at Denver International Airport, on my way back to Seattle, in 2007, from a conference, where a workshop had to do with tools to help you improve your life. I had a laminated reminder, with a 1 inch, obvious toy wrench (plastic, but with silver coating). It was confiscated, with the words, “Don’t Laugh! We DON’T allow tools on board a jet”. The moderator of the workshop laughed, when I notified her.

    Thank you for all you do. Your Premium email is awesome!

    Clearly, even the TSA droid knew it was laughable! I had a similar occurrence, trying to figure out why they were digging through my (canvas) briefcase. They finally found what they were looking for: a tiny allen wrench. It was confiscated with the same “no tools allowed” line. I didn’t know it was there, but realized it had been there for many, many previous flights.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the Premium edition! -rc

  13. I suggest you read the Dec. 21, edition of Cracked Online. They have a fantastic article written by an ISRAELI Security person, Picking the TSA and the US Govt. rules to pieces, and explaining why in Israel they can get you from car to gate in 25 minutes, while losing nothing in the way of security and safety.

  14. It’s a fairly elaborate prop for a monkey puppet. The handle is “pearl” (kinda fancy for a puppet) and the chamber appears to be a separate piece which could possibly rotate. The frame convincingly appears to be screwed or riveted together, suggesting inner workings. The hammer and trigger appear to be separate components which could possibly move. The “loop” at the bottom may look out-of-place, but it could be very practically used for a lanyard (hand strap), often found on small handheld devices such as flashlights. We can’t see the front-end of the barrel, but I would be surprised if it were not hollow (at least for a bit), considering the level of detail of everything else.

    The pistol that killed Abraham Lincoln was a Philadelphia Derringer. Some models of this gun had a barrel as short as 1.5 inches. This barrel looks to be a little more than an inch (a US quarter is .955″ in diameter), but a gun could still be dangerous or deadly at close range with such a barrel.

    The Philadelphia Derringer was a single-shot flintlock with a different handle style, increasing the overall length of the gun. But there’s no reason why that gun could not be outfitted with the more modern and compact handle style shown here.

    The only thing that would compel me to seriously question whether this prop could be an actual weapon is the diameter of the barrel. Even the smallest caliber rimfire round would not fit in this “gun.” One commentator mentioned 2mm “pinfire” rounds, which I am not familiar with.

    It is certainly possible to make a functional weapon of this length, but (probably) not with such a slender barrel. But how many people know that? And how many people would be willing to bet their LIVES that the bore was too small for it to be a real gun? I had never heard of “pinfire” rounds — who knows? Maybe tiny bullets are real.

    I think the TSA has done some pretty silly things, and the “neck” comment was stupid, but I would confiscate this prop if I were an agent. It would be one thing if it were a one-piece injection-molded thing with a painted handle. But, other than the diameter of the barrel, this is a pretty convincing prop. If you omitted the coins from the photo then nothing would indicate it was anything but a real pistol. The coins only prove it’s small — but not TOO small to be completely unrealistic. We live in a world where devices are getting smaller and smaller, but still do amazing things.

    I’m still willing to bet the barrel isn’t hollow. -rc

  15. No, I would be fairly certain the barrel isn’t hollow. In fact, that’s definitely a cap gun. The chamber will swing out for a small gunpowder cap, then the hammer can be cocked and the trigger releases a rudimentary sear. It’s a kids’ toy, quite simply, and while anyone who’s ever had one – or anyone who knows firearms — will easily identify it as perfectly safe, confiscating it was in this case the right thing to do.

    Put it this way: firearms don’t need to be real to be useful firearms. You can rob someone with a realistic-looking gun moulded of solid plastic. This gun’s tiny but realistic-looking, and if you can persuade someone that it’ll do damage that’s all it needs to do.

    So yeah — it’s ridiculous at first glance, but in this particular case it makes sense. After all, replica guns can be made in any size. If this is allowed on board, would I be allowed to bring aboard a Blue Gun painted black?

    I’m still willing to bet the barrel’s not hollow — at least, not all the length. -rc

  16. This is a response to Lenny, December 17th: I remember, in the news a year or two ago, a woman with a small baby, having to sample her own Breast Milk, to show the TSA officer it was ok!

  17. I had a wine corkscrew confiscated on a flight out of Los Angeles. Though I certainly agree that zero tolerance takes things a bit far, and don’t really agree the TSA agent used correct judgment, the small gun should have been confiscated and them later returned (like the kitchen knives). Even John Dillinger escaped from prison with a gun whittled from wood.

    Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian who defected and became a journalist for the BBC, was killed when a micro-engineered pellet containing ricin was fired into his leg via an umbrella wielded by someone associated with the Bulgarian secret police. Maybe they shouldn’t allow umbrellas on flights either.

  18. I got one that’s worse than that. A little over 20 years ago, my wife and I flew to San Antonio. We were expecting boy/girl twins, and picked up a pair of “six-shooter” diaper pins (1.5-2″ long). No moving parts except for the pivot point of the pins, and it was made by stamping it out of sheet metal (might have been molded).

    We were passing through security (they were in my wife’s purse), and the next thing we knew, armed security was running up.

    After seeing what they were, we still were not allowed to carry them on. We ended up placing them in an empty stationery box (extremely flimsy protection), taping it closed, and checking it.

    There was no way ANYONE with any degree of intelligence could have mistaken them for working weapons. They looked about as real as a chocolate coin does to a real one.


  19. I have a very tiny, functional 22 cal. pistol. One accessory available for it is an ornate belt buckle that the gun snaps into so it looks like part of the design. I have wondered if it would be noticed when the belt is added to the tray for metal objects, gun side down, when metal detectors are used for security.

  20. Molly, That would be a funny test. However, those who are caught with something that REALLY is dangerous are often detained, if not arrested. So I personally do not recommend testing TSA Security.

    Quick aside to Terry, regarding corkscrew. Back in 1995 (pre-911), I was in 1st Class, and the flight attendants forgot their own “wine openers”. They profusely apologized to us, since “we wouldn’t be able to have wine”. So another first class passenger said he had a corkscrew in his carryon. He turned into a hero! What a difference a few years make.

    Yeah, you can almost guarantee you’d be arrested trying to smuggle a gun through security for any reason. -rc

  21. There’s a phrase I sometimes use, usually after a frustrating call to customer support or tech support — ‘A chimp with a checklist’.

    That comes quite close to describing the situation in this story. 🙂

    I like it. -rc

  22. Some time back, pre-9/11, I was working for an avionics company & traveling to do some repairs in the field. The security checkpoint folks were very worried about my 8-ounce ballpein hammer but after 3 of them discussed it they let me keep it in my carry-on. They were unconcerned about the butane soldering iron or the 12″ phillips screwdriver. They did make me check my oscilloscope, though, even though it would fit under the seat. (Amazingly, the ‘scope made the trip undamaged! Tektronix 465; built like a tank and I still use it to this day.)


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