The internet is an information superhighway, where the best possible information has optimal circumstances to reach the best possible targets. Like any road, however, there are speed bumps, cracks, and potholes, and these cause wrecks on the regular, caused largely by intellectual dishonesty. My new article series will attempt to clean up the detritus blocking traffic wherever I see it. Stay tuned!


“One failed attempt at a shoe bomb and we all have to take off our shoes at the airport. Thirty one school shootings since Columbine and no change in the regulation of guns.” — John Oliver

I’m tired of seeing this quote. The Huffington Post uses it. The Guardian loves it. People want to fuck this quote. Even though most people agree that the TSA is useless , somehow, we’re supposed to just accept that if the TSA reacts, anyone else that proposes either no state response, or a more moderate one than the TSA proposes, they’re already grossly underreacting. So the TSA is apparently now now our standard for what levels of regulation are optimal here in the US. And how many terrorists has the TSA stopped? Well…

Most other advanced nations use private screening services, and their security is just fine — and, according to most accounts, less of a hassle for travelers. Some American airports, from San Francisco to Jackson Hole, are already trying out that approach. Why not take that national?

One reason, of course, is that the TSA’s bloated unionized workforce will oppose it. But the TSA is also one of the most unpopular agencies with the public. What’s more, as Bruce Schneier notes, it has never caught a terrorist. It’s not about security, but about “security theater” designed to give the appearance of security. I think the traveling public has caught on to that, and travelers account for more votes than screeners do.

[Abolish The TSA, Glenn Harlan Reynolds | USA Today]

When John Oliver, and the rest of the frenetic, approval-seeking, internet echo chamber consistently spread this quote, it not only shows that the gun regulation crowd don’t think about the implications of what they say, but doesn’t actually do what they want it to (encourage gun legislation). It just makes schools look a little bit more like airports.

Morris High School (Photo: Adama Diallo)

So congratulations, now the TSA is standardized in your child’s school. Did Oliver mention this? No. Because his premise, that guns aren’t regulated as much as shoes, is bullshit.

It doesn’t take more than a cursory examination of the statement to realize its first flaw. It talks about what the TSA will do to someone at an airport, and how they’ll react to situations is based on the threats they’re instructed to assess. Ineffectively, mind you. But if the TSA sends someone through a detector, and it goes off, they will attempt to secure that person. If the bag goes through a scanner, and suspicious objects are found in imaging, they will also attempt to secure the bag owner.

Now, it shouldn’t be a shock that one of the suspicious people TSA is supposed to look for is someone who is armed. This means that if someone sets off a security measure, they don’t just pass it off. They react. One of the ways to make them react, then, would obviously to bring a gun to the airport, and go through screening (for some reason). This means that Oliver’s joke of a mentality literally defeats itself, since if the same situation his hypothetical shoes would be in were mirrored with his supposed counterpoint, guns, I think they would make the possessor do something much worse than stripping their feet. I think they’d threaten to shoot them, and charge, cuff, and cage them, to boot. This means that in Oliver’s standard of regulation, guns are already just as equally regulated as the contents of one’s shoes.

Then take that another step, and the reader can realize that the TSA isn’t everywhere, at least not yet (they’re getting there), and that this standard of security wasn’t present at schools where shootings took place, and that the most those schools had to offer was a strict “zero tolerance” policy for guns and other weapons.

Then comes the real meat of his point. He doesn’t want less TSA regulation nearly as much as he wants more regulation on firearms. He thinks that it’s absurd when the state regulates in an area he has less feels about, but he probably wants the DOJ and the ATF to get all the funding that would’ve otherwise gone to the DOHS for TSA guarding at airports, so they can make and enforce more laws against firearm possession, and give him all the gun regulation his heart needs to be comfortable being a kid in our nation’s schools. Well, let’s ask someone keen on shooting a school up if they’re also keen on following a policy that bars the possession of firearms. If the conversant didn’t laugh, it’d probably be because s/he’d already pumped a few rounds into those who asked such a stupid question.

So no. John doesn’t have a point, and neither does anyone who spreads this kind of thing around. The solution is clearly not more state intervention, since for all the money it’s not worth, it has proven to be ineffective in stopping the sort of atrocities it’s supposed to stop, and normally amounts to nothing more than a glorified shampoo policeman. The solution, if anything, is to decrease and work to eliminate the statist environment that causes this sort violence to be more commonplace than it should be.

So John, do you want to check your false dilemmas, or are they carry on?