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Officious Custom Officers

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  • Officious Custom Officers

    From this morning's Rude Awakening.

    Eric Fry, recalling his recent encounter with U.S. Customs, reports…

    "What do we have here?" a rotund Customs officer cheerily exclaimed, as he stared into the monitor of his X-ray scanner.

    "Wuddah you got, Pete?" a fellow officer replied.

    "Two handguns," said the officer named Pete, nodding his head with a self-satisfied smirk.

    "Metal?" the colleague asked.

    "Yep," said Pete. "Let's open this bag up and take a look."

    "Um, they're just toy guns," your editor explained. "They belong to my 9-year old son."

    "Did Air France just let you cruise on through with these when you boarded the plane in Paris?" Pete asked.

    "Yes," your editor replied. "Why wouldn't they? This is checked baggage. Not carry-on."

    "Well," the other officer replied, rocking back on his heels, "it's just that these firearms don't look legal."

    "They're not firearms," your editor said. "They're toys. We bought them in a French toy store."

    "But they're metal," the officer countered.

    "That's right," your editor agreed. "They're metal toys."

    "I understand what you're trying to say, sir. But guns like these aren't legal in the United States. I'm going to verify that with the commanding officer."

    "Okay," your editor sighed. "But what do you believe is the problem with these toy guns?"

    "Well," the officer answered, "they don't have any red tips at the end of the barrel to indicate that they are toys. Toy guns have to have a red tip on the end of the barrel. And they're metal. So they look like real guns."

    "Okay," your editor persisted. "So let's pretend they aren't toys. Let's say they're real guns. Would that be a problem? If we say they're real guns, can I keep them?"

    "No," the officer answered. "Toy guns like this aren't legal in the U.S."

    "I got that, but real guns like this are. So let's say they're real."

    "Well, sir, that's not possible," the officer insisted. "These are illegal guns. May I have all of your passports please? Go sit over there and the commanding officer will be with you in a little while."

    Obediently, your editor and his children occupied four of the seats reserved for the accused-but-not-yet-condemned Customs violators. The youngest of your editor's four children was fighting back tears. These were his brand new toys after all. And they were REALLY cool. He was planning to use them in the James Bond movie he is filming.

    The oldest of your editor's three children was utterly disgusted. "Can you believe this? Two minutes after walking out of this airport we could buy real handguns that could actually do some harm to someone. So who do these guys think they're protecting?"

    "Well, I'm not sure they're protecting anyone," your editor agreed. "But it looks like they're trying to protect their jobs. Did you see those tables by the X-ray scanner with tonight's confiscated items? They were full of potted flowers, raw eggs, coconuts and other agricultural contraband. These 'guns' were probably the biggest haul of the night."

    "That's pathetic," your editor's oldest son scoffed.

    "Welcome to America," his father replied. "We've got more handguns per capita than almost any country in the world, but if a 9-year old brings a toy gun through Customs, his Dad's a criminal…And guess what happens next? My name goes into some vast government data-base as a gun smuggler…Hopefully, I won't be detained."

    A few moments later, the commanding officer approaches with a couple of official documents in his hand and a very grave expression on his face.

    "May I speak with you a moment, sir…away from your children?"

    "Sure," your editor replied, trying to fight back laughter.

    "This is a very serious offence," the officer began. "Now I realize that you were just trying to bring toy guns through Customs, and that you probably didn't even know that you were breaking the law. So we're just going to let you go with a warning. But let me give you this document that states we have confiscated these guns and will be destroying them."


    "I just want to emphasize," the officer continued, "that we take this kind of thing very seriously."

    "I noticed."

    "Of course you would know that these are toy guns," the earnest officer explained, "But if I were a law enforcement officer and I saw you out on the street brandishing one of these guns, I would probably drop you."

    "I can see that," your editor replied, secretly referring to the macho mentality of the Customs officer.

    "We just can't let things like this through Customs," the officer insisted.

    "Fine," your editor replied, hoping that monosyllabic responses would discourage the officers from continuing their asinine commentary. "So does this piece of paper that you're handing me mean that I'll be whisked into a dark room every time I return to the States? I do a lot of traveling. So I hope you guys didn't blackball me, just because my son bought two toys guns."

    "Ohhh noooo," the highest-ranking moron replied. "You won't have any trouble. We've just put a file in our records that tell us that you tried to bring illegal look-alike guns into the country. That's all."

    "Uh huh. Got it. Can I go now?"

    "Sure and thanks for your cooperation."

    Your editor's response to this inquisition was less a result of cooperation than coercion. He said what he believed he had to say, not what he wished to say. He was not aware of any other viable options, except to pretend that toy guns posed a threat to national security and to feign respect for this particularly ridiculous aspect of the law.
    "There's one way to find out if a man is honest-ask him. If he says 'yes,' you know he is a crook." Groucho Marx