will not allow the enemy to win this war by restricting our freedom
of mobility,” claimed Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, as
he announced a series of restrictions that will sharply reduce mobility.
If one has
to arrive at the airport two or three hours before boarding, many
businesspeople will choose not to fly. The immediate alternative
is driving, especially for trips of less than 500 miles, and in
the long term, videoconferencing will be bolstered.
small children will find air travel even more onerous. No longer
will grandma be able to meet mom at the airport gate, and help her
take a baby and a toddler down the concourse. No longer will Aunt
Joan be able to escort her 11-year-old niece to the boarding gate.
Spending two or three hours in an airport before a flight will make
travel all the more difficult and stressful for children, and many
families will choose to vacation by driving rather than flying.
Air destinations like Disneyworld will suffer substantially in the
As Glenn Reynolds
argues in his InstaPundit weblog, bans on steak knives in
first class, bans on pocket knives among all passengers, prohibitions
on plastic cutlery in airports, and similar measures fulfill the
terrorist goal of portraying America is incapable of meaningful
response. In addition, measures further disarming the law-abiding
on the plane only worsen the current policy of turning airplanes
into safe zones for hijackers.
FAA anti-hijacking strategy was built on the following assumptions:
That the hijackers
are not suicidal (hence the negotiating teams, etc.).
That the weapon
of choice would be a metal object such as a pistol (thus the airport
That the flight
crew would remain in control of the aircraft (leading to elaborate
signaling procedures and delaying tactics for hijacked aircraft).
That the flight
crew should NOT to resist the hijackers (hoping to open negotiations
assumptions were rendered null and void on Sept 11, 2001.
people to realize this were the
heroes of United Flight 93. Thanks to cell phones, they realized
that their plane had been turned into a weapon. And they resolved
to die a little sooner as they fought to save thousands of lives,
rather than to sit still and wait. What a wonderful rejection of
the advice that the gun-prohibition lobbies, the depend-on-government
lobbies, and much of the media have been droning into the American
public for so long. In truth, “Give the criminals what they want.
Don’t resist,” isn’t always safer. In a shooting in a subway or
school, passivity can get you and dozens more people killed. In
a hijacking, it may get thousands more killed.
in September 1941, Nazi or Japanese terrorists armed only with knives
had taken the controls of a plane, a train, or a bus. Would the
Americans of 1941 have obeyed all the hijackers’ instructions, or
would they have rushed the hijackers en masse, knowing that
some passengers would die, but that the hijackers would be stopped?
If America is to be “changed forever” by the war which began on
September 11, 2001, the first change should be the end of the culture
The most constructive
step taken by the Secretary of Transportation was to begin placing
armed federal air marshals on random flights. Back in the early
1970s, the last time that air marshals were in routine use on domestic
flights, they were often armed with .44 magnum snub-nosed revolvers.
The revolvers often carried “prefragmented” ammunition, such as
the Glaser round, which is composed of buckshot pellets.
barrel of the revolver means that the round is fired at relatively
lower velocity. Fragmenting rounds have very low penetrability
since their kinetic energy is dispersed in many small projectiles,
rather than in a single bullet, and since they are less dense than
Glaser fragmenting rounds typically will fail even to penetrate
a wood door.
is that such bullets tend to produce shallow wounds, which reduces
their ability to instantly kill or incapacitate their target.
too far in the future, dart guns, or other high-tech “less than
lethal” weapons might become practical for airplane use, but for
now, however, firearms are the usable weapon.
ammunition, the chance of a stray round penetrating the aluminum
body of the plane is virtually nil. With less exotic ammunition,
it is theoretically possible, but hardly certain, that a stray bullet
could penetrate an airplane’s body.
happen in such a case? Would the plane crash instantly? World War
II veterans may remember that B-17 bombers which had numerous holes
ripped open by hostile machine gun bullets had a legendary ability
to stay aloft.
B-17, however, modern commercial aircraft are pressurized for passenger
comfort. Today’s commercial airliners have pressurized cabin altitudes
that climb to a maximum of around 8,000 feet (which amounts to about
8.6 psi pressure differential compared to the outside atmosphere).
Could a couple
of holes from the biggest bullets in the world about a half-inch
in diameter cause an explosive decompression? Not really.
The higher pressure cabin air would start to leak out, but the difference
between the inside and the outside air pressure would not be sufficient
to rip the plane’s frame apart.
There is only
one known instance in which a bullet hole in an aircraft frame yanked
objects across the plane, expanded, and sucked a person out into
the sky. That was the James Bond movie Goldfinger.
The movie was not intended to teach real-life lessons about physics.
laws of physics somehow be altered so that a stray bullet could
cause an explosive decompression, a big hole in a plane doesn't
cause a crash. What’s really dangerous about a sudden loss of cabin
pressure is that passengers can't breathe. The procedure is to put
on your oxygen mask and do a "High Dive" to 10,000 feet (or to 3,000
feet above the highest terrain which means if you were west
of Denver you would only dive to 17,000 feet before leveling off),
thus entering an atmosphere that can sustain life. In fact, the
altitude limitation placed on aircraft is based on their ability
to descend to a breathable altitude in a given amount of time.
Would a direct
hit on a hydraulic line cause a crash? No, because modern commercial
aircraft are built with redundancies to cover the failure of any
And even if
Goldfinger were real life and a small hole in an airplane
frame could cause a crash, that is still a better result than the
plane being turned into a weapon against an American city.
We can no
longer allow the assumption that hijackers are not intending
to kill thousands.
So armed air
marshals are a good idea, but there are some limitations. The number
of air marshals cannot even come close to providing full coverage
for commercial flights.
How can we
make it a certainty that every potential hijacker knows that
there is no possibility he will gain control of an airplane?
The most realistic
plan is to apply the policy behind air-marshal deployment on a broader
scale, ensuring that every plane is protected.
has always allowed federal law-enforcement personnel, such as FBI
agents, to carry their firearms on board. Even though federal agents
have sometimes committed crimes, including murder, on balance the
law promotes safety.
should be expanded to allow state and local law enforcement personnel
to carry firearms. Currently, state and local law enforcement must
be on-duty (or required to go on duty immediately upon arrival).
How stringently these rules enforced varies among airports and airlines.
pilots? Some have proposed armoring the cockpit wall and door, and
locking pilots in for the duration of the flight. It appears that
Tuesday’s hijackers killed stewardesses in order to draw pilots
out of the cockpit. This ploy was necessary because current anti-hijacking
training stresses keeping the cockpit secure. If pilots were locked
inside (with the key held by somebody on the ground), pilots would
become de facto prisoners a visible triumph of the terrorist
objective of destroying America’s strength as a free society. Also,
the cockpit is intended to be an exit route for passengers in case
of a crash.
It is already
legal for pilots and stewards to carry firearms on a plane, if they
have the consent of the airline, and they have “successfully completed
a course of training in the use of firearms acceptable to the Administrator”
of the Federal Aviation Administration. (14 Code of Federal Regulations
the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute in Southern California
that it would offer free defensive firearms training to certified
commercial airline pilots. Front Sight’s announcement was accompanied
by endorsements from commercial pilots who have trained with Front
and the federal government ought to encourage pilots and stewards
to take the appropriate training, and become ready to protect their
passengers. Surely if we can trust a pilot with a $50 million plane
and the lives of three hundred passengers, we can trust him not
to use a gun in way that would endanger his passengers or himself.
from a few feet away doesn’t require expert marksmanship. In a hijacking,
unlike in many situations faced by police on the ground (e.g., responding
to a domestic violence call), it will usually be quite clear who
the criminal is. There are always risks that a particular hostage,
or somebody near the hijacker, might be wounded or killed by a missed
shot. But this is still better than everyone on the plane being
killed, or thousands of people in some nearby city being killed.
some gun-prohibition advocates will object. "We don't trust flight
crews with weapons" they may say. “Putting a gun in a volatile situation
just makes things more dangerous,” they insist. But Sept 11th makes
a shamble of these arguments. At least on airplanes, “the best defense
is to put up no defense give them what they want,” is no
longer valid. (The quote comes from a book by the late Pete Shields,
the former President of Handgun Control, Inc. Guns Don’t Die:
People Do, p. 125.)
the safety of the flight crew increases the safety of the passengers.
No two groups of people have interests that are more aligned.
And yes, even
though stewardesses can sometimes get nasty with passengers, they
too are capable of carrying firearms responsibly. Israel’s El Al
airline arms its flight stewards and pilots.
passengers being allowed to protect themselves--rather then being
forbidden even to have plastic knives?
First of all,
in a situation like Tuesday’s hijackings (and we can never again
assume that hijackers intend not to hit a building), then
even the most inept response by an armed passenger would do no net
harm, and might even help. In other words, if a passenger with a
high-powered hunting rifle confronted some hijackers, shot at them
and missed, and killed some other passengers, all the passengers
are doing to die soon anyway. If the bullets rip open the airplane
frame, and cause a catastrophic decompression, then it is much better
for the plane to crash under circumstances in which the hijackers
cannot control it, than at the time and place of the hijackers’
But the risks
of armed passengers can be substantially reduced. First, a passenger
who wants to travel armed should have to possess a valid concealed
handgun carry license. The majority of states currently issue such
licenses to qualified applicants.
passenger would have to identify himself at the airline at check-in.
This would allow him to carry a firearm past security. Flight attendants
would not serve him alcohol (or would serve only a single drink).
Like the air marshals, passengers would have to bring only firearms
from a list of particularly suitable guns, and would have to use
ammunition with high frangibility. If necessary, airlines could
even supply (for a fee) the appropriate type of ammunition.
passengers who wish to carry on-board might be required to pass
a special training class related to firearms on planes, similar
to the classes required for flight crews.
Now the idea
of armed passengers is extremely offensive to the gunphobics who
have spent the last thirty years inflicting their aesthetic sensibilities
on the America, and turning airports, schools, and too many workplaces
into “gun-free zones” which in practice has meant turning
them into criminal safety zones, where it easy to kill a lot of
people especially people who believe that “the best defense
is to put up no defense give them what they want.”
A second objection
is that armed passengers will get irritated with flight delays,
rude stewardesses, etc., and start killing people. Nearly identical
objections have been raised nearly everywhere the handgun carry
licensing laws have been introduced, and in every single state where
the laws are in effect, these mean-spirited warning have been proven
to be false. Data from states such as Florida show that people with
concealed handgun permits are much, much more law-abiding than the
rest of the population.
vast number of witnesses to any potential crime, and the guarantee
that there will be other armed people on the plane who won’t tolerate
misconduct, a plane would be an especially unlikely place for a
person to expect to get away with misusing a gun.
airlines used to offer “smoking” and “non-smoking” flights. It would
be interesting to see what would happen if airlines began offering
“armed” and “unarmed flights.” Which planes do you think that would-be
hijackers would prefer to take?
We also know
that the greater publicity given to an anti-crime program, the greater
its potential deterrent effect. The introduction of sky marshals
ended hijackings, without a single marshal having to fire a single
shot. When Kennesaw, Georgia, enacted a nationally publicized law
to require mandatory gun ownership for families, violent crime and
home burglaries plunged. Again, the announcement of a viable program
to stop criminals resulted in crime being stopped without a need
for actually firing weapons.
planes are not the only possible targets of the war being waged
by bin Laden and the governments which support him. We don’t know
where they will strike next. The evil governments and groups which
nurture terrorism have so much to resent about the United States,
because so much of the United States is a demonstration of why freedom
prospers and dictatorship and dark ages theocracy fail. What we
do know is that shopping malls, schools, and other public places
will be safer if terrorists will encounter immediate opposition.
Law-enforcement officers cannot be everywhere, but an armed, trained
citizenry can be. As John Lott, now a scholar at the American Enterprise
Institute, details in the second edition of his book More Guns:
Less Crime, the introduction of concealed handgun licensing
laws leads to a drop of approximately 90% in mass killings in public
a gun an air marshal, a law-enforcement officer, a pilot,
a stewardess, or a trained citizen could make a mistake,
and there is no guarantee that a mistake will never be made. But
the nationwide American experience of air marshals and law-enforcement
officers carrying guns on planes, the experience of the many states
which issue handgun permits to law-abiding peaceful citizens, and
the experience of El Al’s flight crews all suggest that these risks
are relatively small.
It would be
possible to decide to allow the armament of only some of the categories
of people we have discussed in this article. But the safest strategy
is for all of them to be armed, if they so choose, and if they pass
appropriate training and background checks, and carry appropriate
weapons. When we make it near-certain statistically that on every
commercial flight, some of the crew and a few of the passengers
will be armed, then we create the near-certainty that never again
will the enemies of freedom be able to use American aircraft as
a weapon against American cities.
We can also
guarantee that allowing passengers and crew to carry the tools to
defeat hijackers will not impose massive delays on the American
traveling public or sharply reduce the utility of air travel for
business and public, and therefore will not significantly harm the
free American economy. The same cannot be said of the Department
of Transportation’s’ current approach.