Tar Heel Pundits - Tar Heel born and Tar Heel bred
Tar Heel Pundits
"[A] prolific linker and thinker." - Ed Cone
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Thursday, July 11, 2002



The House has passed a bill which would let pilots carry guns in the cockpits of passenger airliners...I definitely think this is a step in the right direction...The pilots deserve to be armed, and the government should let them carry guns to prevent hijackings...This is a good way to deter terrorists from trying to hijack airliners, and it will also help increase sentiment that flying is safe again, something that has not been accomplished by federalizing airport security workers...Fusilier Pundit asks why we shouldn't be arming the flight attendants (link found via Asparagirl)...I think it is a good question, and it is something that should be examined more closely...It probably has not been brought up because of the male/female stereotypes that go along with being a pilot/flight attendant. As Asparagirl puts it,
having an automatic mental block on the idea, being unable to accept even the possibility that the woman who brings you your flat soda might also be able to shoot to kill and save your life, is willful blindness.
Asparagirl and Fusilier Pundit seem to come out in favor of arming the attendants, but I'm not so sure...I think we have to start with the reason why we are arming people on planes at all, and then look at who should be armed in order to best accomplish that goal.
Why are we giving people on planes guns? I think the answer to this is to prevent hijackings. While shooting a suicide bomber is also a good reason to have guns on the plane, I don't think it is the primary reason. It would be very difficult to prevent competent suicide bombers (i.e. one who has a bomb that works, and not one who can't successfully light a fuse in his shoe - those morons can be taken out by a flight attendant and unarmed passengers) from blowing up planes with guns in the hands of anyone on the plane because those people are not going to do anything suspicious while on the plane until they push the button, which means there will be no opportunity to use the guns until after the bomb explodes. Therefore, I think that the primary reason for arming people on planes is to prevent hijackings. Hijackers have to have control of the plane in order to accomplish their goals. So, in order to hijack a plane, the hijackers have to take control of the cockpit to fly the plane. The best way to keep them from doing that is to make the cockpit effectively a fortress that they have to take over. This is best done by (1) reinforcing the cockpit doors and keeping them locked, and (2) arming the pilots so that if someone does force their way into the cockpit that person will be taken out.
The logical next question is, why not arm the flight attendants in addition to the pilots? Fusilier Pundit lists many of the reasons why flight attendants should be armed:
[F]light attendants are in the right place at the right time to apply that kind of force; they are arguably better-placed to do so than the pilots. Their employers train them in other lifesaving skills, so they can be trusted with lethal-force decisions. They are already held responsible by their employers and by statute for the safety and order of the cabin. They are more fit than the general population for the demands of managing the defensive handgun. Their schedules and mobility allow them to choose from a number of schools that would welcome them.
Still, I think that there are some valid reasons they should not be armed though. There is a problem with having a gun in the passenger cabin and people knowing where that gun located. This means that there is a potential weapon onboard for the terrorists to use. A terrorist might therefore not have to bring a weapon on board; instead, a couple of them could just quickly overpower a flight attendant and take his or her weapon. I remember hearing about how the Sept. 11th hijackers had been training in martial arts, presumably to be able to overpower unruly passengers. If the flight attendants have guns, the terrorists could overpower one who was armed and then be able to take over the plane. This is not an issue with the pilots, who would keep their guns in the cockpit, or air marshals, whose identity (and therefore gun location) is not known, meaning that the access to their guns by passengers is almost impossible. I do not think putting a gun with its location known in the passenger cabin where terrorists could have access to its location (the flight attendants would still have to perform their job in the cabin and therefore be near the passengers) is a good solution to the problem of preventing hijackings...The problem that arming people on planes is trying to solve is the threat of hijackings...While arming flight attendants might have some positive results, many of those results are also solved by just having armed pilots and air marshals, and adding the risk of a known gun in a location where the terrorists could gain access to it creates a larger problem than it solves...
UPDATE: Harrumph! has a quote from a pilot that puts things nicely...
"We will be shot down by our own airforce if the plane is taken over. I'd like to have something to say about that before it happens."

UPDATE #2: FP asks, "re: "adding the risk of a known gun in a location where the terrorists could gain access to it creates a larger problem" who said anything about a "known" gun?" - By saying known gun, I was referring to the fact that if the flight attendants were armed there would be a gun in the passenger cabin...by having a gun in the passenger cabin with its potential location narrowed down to a small number of people (i.e. the flight attendants) I think it would be easier for a terrorist to get access to that gun than one in the cockpit with the pilots...However, I am sitting somewhat on the fence on this issue now...I still think the answer to this question lies in figuring out whether the balance of the issue comes down on the benefits of arming both the pilots and the flight attendants and the risk involved in having guns in the passenger cabin versus the risk of just having pilots armed and having no guns in the passenger cabin (other than an air marshal whose identity would be anonomous)...
UPDATE #3: Jeff Cooper responds...
Check out his link to the left if this one does not work...


posted by John Branch @ 10:03 AM


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