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Guns In The Sky

Do pistol-packing pilots make air travel safer?


by S.E. Shepherd
April 21, 2003

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Guns In The Sky_S.E. Shepherd-Do pistol-packing pilots make air travel safer? Am I the only one who thinks this is a bad idea? We are putting guns in the hands of commercial airline pilots in an attempt to make air travel “safer.” Pardon me, but having a gun in the cockpit of a plane, where all the vital instruments are, just doesn’t make me feel all that secure. In fact, it makes me worry even more.

The argument is that arming pilots gives pilots a fighting chance during a hijacking/terrorist attack. A terrorist rushes the cockpit brandishing some sort of weapon, threatening to kill the pilot and co-pilot if they don’t do what he says. The pilot quickly pulls out his sidearm, shoots, or perhaps threatens to shoot, the potential hijacker and saves the day. This is the scenario those in favor of this idea like to play.

I, however play some different scenarios. Scenario number one: Pilot Bob and co-pilot Carl are armed with guns. Pilot Bob and co-pilot are very careful with there new standard-issue handguns. But pilot Bob forgot to lock the safety, and during some turbulence, pilot Bob’s gun falls and goes off, shooting either vital controls, instruments, co-pilot Carl, or even himself. Let’s say pilot Bob is bleeding profusely from a vital area. Co-pilot Carl now struggles between flying a plane through turbulence alone, and making sure pilot Bob doesn’t die from blood loss.

Or scenario number two: a terrorist armed with a box-cutter (because it’s the preferred weapon on skyjackers) grabs a flight attendant or another passenger, and threatens to kill them if he (or she) isn’t given control of the plane. The terrorist makes his (or her) way to the cockpit, makes the same demand to the pilot. People for the idea of pilots with guns say this is when “dead-eye” Bob will shoot the terrorist, without the terrorist having the chance to slit the hostage’s throat, or something to that effect.

My scenario plays with the pilot, not being a master marksman, giving up his sidearm to save the hostage, and the terrorist now has a gun instead of just a box-cutter, becoming that more dangerous.

It seems to me the object should be to make it more difficult to bring weapons on board a plane, not guarantee a potential skyjacker/terrorist access to a firearm. Put it this way; as of now, a terrorist somehow has to smuggle his weapon on board. If the terrorist knows the pilot has a gun, his weapon is already there, he just has to get it away from the pilot.

And haven’t we been told that firearms on a plane are bad? Isn’t there something about holes creating a loss of air pressure and thus causing a vacuum? Haven’t we seen dozens of disaster movies with this scenario? Why are we putting guns on planes?

Pilots with guns also gives me a feeling I’m riding on “Con Air,” not American Airlines. If we’re going to turn plane rides into the Wild West, why not give the flight attendants guns too? Wouldn’t they be the logical “first line” of defense? If some nut tries to rush the cockpit, the flight attendants could gun him down before he ever got there. And when you consider the recent reports of violence against flight crews (“air rage”), wouldn’t that be a logical solution to that problem (“NO, YOU CAN’T HAVE ANOTHER BAG OF PEANUTS! IS THAT A PROBLEM??”)

Better yet, what happened to the idea of federal agents flying anonymously on commercial flights? I would rather have a federal officer, who is trained to deal with the scenarios I mentioned above, and trained to look out for potentially dangerous passengers than a pilot who has taken a few self-defense and shooting classes. Being a “Sky Marshall” has its own reward of flying around the world for free. Agents should be of all nationalities, ages, and both sexes, just like most travelers. And they should be on heavy rotation, so no terrorist group can recognize them as agents; they appear as random as the other passengers. Which do you think is more threatening to you as a terrorist, knowing some minimally trained pilot has a gun; or knowing any passenger, including someone sitting near you, is a highly-trained sharp-shooter, skilled at taking down threats in the very scenario you’re trying to set up? Which makes you feel safer as a passenger?

If I’m a passenger, I’d rather not know who has a gun on the plane, and I’d rather my fellow passengers not know either. All terrorists, all strategists know the element of surprise is a crucial weapon to any successful attack. Why give the terrorists the advantage?

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Thomas Squires from Southern California writes:
August 27, 2005
You can teach an intelligent and responsible person everything they need to know about one particular model of handgun in three hours. This includes both theory and firing practice. A good handgun costs about $500. Any modern handgun from a reputable manufacturer made since 1990 will not fire if dropped. In fact, in my state of California, any gun which doesn't pass the drop test can't be sold in the state. If you are willing to pay $300 extra, you can purchase a laser sight which will insure that the bullet will go EXACTLY where you put the red dot. You can buy a fingerprint technology safe for the handgun for $285 dollars that nothing short of a welding torch will breach. For $5.00 a bullet, you can buy ammunition made of lead dust and resin that disintegrates on a hard surface, but will penetrate the 90% water of a human body. Anyone with the brains to fly a jet airplane could manage the minimal skill required to fire a handgun. The problem isn't technology. The problem is that most people today either 1} Never had a father in the military 2} Never had a father who went hunting or 3) Were raised only by their mother. Therefore, no one in the family knew anything about guns. Their opinions were formed by what they see on T.V. People like this have an irrational, hysterical fear of guns. They believe a gun is an evil machine that can possess you like the devil and turn a normal person into a murderer. They believe the gun will jump up and and shoot someone. A gun is a tool. Unfortunately, a gun isn't forgiving, so it is the ultimate stupidity test. If you are stupid with a gun, someone dies. I believe that people who fly planes are intelligent and responsible so I don't see what the problem is. Trust me, the plane is a whole lot harder to operate than the gun. Believe me, the average airline pilot has a significantly higher IQ that the average policeman (policemen do have higher than average IQ, but they tend to be chosen more for their courage, physical strength, and honesty rather than their brains.) People tend to think that if you slap a police uniform on someone, they somehow immediately acquire Jedi or Ninja mastery over firearms. I would like to point out that six months ago, the police in my city, Los Angeles, stopped the WRONG CAR and fired 142 shots at it WITHOUT HITTING THE DRIVER. By some miracle, no one in the community was hit. I'm sure the author S.E. Sheperd has no problem with police carrying loaded guns. So what's wrong with having a high I.Q. pilot who is specially selected for his ability to make swift decisions have a gun?

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