Not long after 9/11 the call went out from thousands of pilots … never again would they allow the cockpit of an airplane to be commandeered and used as a missile against ground or other airborne targets.
Of course, one of the reasons the 9/11 hijackers were successful is that pilots and passengers were reacting to those takeovers the way they’d been taught … agree to the hijackers demands in order to protect other innocent lives. No one ever thought the hijackers would sacrifice their own lives AND those of the passengers and crew to promote their agenda. We were all wrong and we now know it when we fly.
A New Strategy
Shortly after September 11th, a call rang out from airline pilots that they should be allowed to carry firearms as a final airborne barricade against another 9/11. By late 2002, an Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) supported bill was signed into law creating the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program. Just as the numbers of actual TSA Sky Marshals flying aboard airliners is today unknown, so too are the numbers of airline pilots that actually carry weapons. All in all, things have worked smoothly, at least in the sense that a pilot has never needed to use their weapon aloft to defend their airplane since 2002. But the lack of an attack is not conclusive evidence that a weapon on board an airplane is the solution to airborne security. And yes, I know that in the early days of aviation, plenty of airline pilots carried guns.
Personally I am uncomfortable with weapons. Maybe a better phrase is that I “respect the power of weapons,” simply because I watched the results during my Viet Nam Era military stint. I guess I’d say this is all my hang up and the NRA folks would probably agree. If I were in the cockpit, I simply would not allow a weapon on board my airplane. But there is more at stake here than simply my opinion on airborne security. The weapon of a US Airways captain discharged right through the cockpit wall a few weeks ago while the aircraft was in flight again shining a light on whether a gun aboard an airplane is more of a threat than the threat the weapon is designed to protect against. The reason the incident is also so important is the cavalier response of the airline and the TSA. Right after the aircraft landed, a TSA spokesman attempted to downplay the incident by claiming that, “We know that there was never any danger to the aircraft or the occupants on board.”
In a word, “Bull!”
What the TSA spokesman meant was there was no danger because no passenger or crew member took the bullet … this time.Every time a FFDO enters an airport or an airplane, there is an increased risk of an incident simply because the weapon is present.
I realize that this was an isolated incident, but why did it need to happen at all? If the gun in this case had discharged toward the cabin rather than toward the outside of the airplane, we would be having a much different discussion today. Haven’t we invented a large enough security bureaucracy in the TSA to put some of this cowboy stuff behind us after nearly seven years?
If the people on board those 9/11 airplanes knew what we do now, do you honestly believe they would all just sit there and watch it all happen? I don’t. And I don’t think passengers today would sit back uninvolved either.The US Airways incident shows again that the risks inherent in carrying loaded weapons on board an airplane outweigh the benefits, especially when the aircraft may already have an armed TSA Sky Marshall on board. In a worse case scenario, we simply don’t need a gunfight at the OK Corral scenario at 39,000 feet anyway.
Someone also needs to explain why there was a round sitting in the chamber ready to shoot. My guess is that even under siege there would have been time for that kind of action.And since security is always high at FAA ATC facilities because of the terrorist threat, why not allow ATC managers and air traffic controllers to carry weapons for protection.
The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” That’s the law everyone uses to justify their own case for carrying a weapon. I’m no attorney, but from where I sit, the right to carry a weapon is directly related to a state’s right to organize a well-regulated militia. Taken out of context, anyone can make the Constitution support almost any cause. But that’s a discussion for another day. But what do you think?
On a side note, you might also want to watch this short video produced by a law enforcement officer about how he believes the weapon being carried by the US Airways pilot might have discharged. It’s eye opening.