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Arm the Pilots!

Barry Farber


People who think they’re the only ones in the world with the right idea are scary. I’m one of them, but I hope my calm and my logic will ease your fears! Actually, I don’t think I’m the only one in the world who gets it right. To be precise, I’ve simply never read, heard, or heard tell of anybody ELSE who gets it right.

What I’m convinced I’ve got right is the argument about guns in the cockpit.

Somebody big up there in authority doesn’t want guns in the cockpit.

Shortly after 9/11 it seemed the entire nation rose in standing applause to the notion that pilots should be armed. Despite that overwhelming consensus, the program to arm pilots of our passenger planes seems to have started out weak and gradually tapered off.

A bureaucratic obstacle course was erected that had pilots, willing and eager to bear arms, walking away in disgust. Requirements suddenly descended from who-knows-where for training and background checks even for pilots who were trained in firearms in the military, had handled firearms for decades, and had breezed through multiple background checks -- military and airline -- already.

The argument up to now may not have resulted in many cockpits defended by firearms, but at least it’s given me additional respect for Ann Coulter. Some abysmally clueless official trashed the idea of guns in the hands of pilots saying, “Oh, no. Pilots shouldn’t have guns. It’s not their job to have guns. It’s the pilot’s job to fly the plane safely to its destination.”

Which prompted Miss Coulter to say, “That’s like saying a woman shouldn’t have any defense against a rapist. It’s not her job to defend herself against rape,” said Lady Ann... “It’s her job just to get safely home!”

The argument most frequently and promptly mounted against pilots having guns is the obvious one that guns are dangerous; and a shootout in a space as cramped as a cockpit can lead to an armed pilot accidentally killing a co-pilot instead of a terrorist; a co-pilot killing a pilot as WELL as a terrorist, a pilot and co-pilot killing each other INSTEAD of a terrorist, an escalation into the main cabin of the plane causing the killing of passengers, the puncturing of the skin of the airplane leading to depressurization and disaster; and at least a dozen alternative causeways to a crash.

Every bit of that is true, but -- HELLO -- while true, every bit of that is the strongest argument, not against, but in FAVOR of guns in the cockpit!

Yes. The strong possibility of disastrous chaos if pilots carry guns does not serve THEIR argument against guns. It serves MY argument FOR guns.

At least here I can mount my case without interruption; something not always guaranteed in radio and TV debate.

The twelve-year-old boy in the sandlot with a football and a few friends is, let’s agree, a “football player.” Likewise the members of the professional football team that wins the Superbowl are all quite properly considered “football players.” All football players are not equal. It’s easy to measure the degrees of expertise and proficiency separating the sandlot scrimmagers from the Superbowl victors. Sure, they’re all “football players,” alright; but which are more plentiful and easier to come by?

Sandlot players are many; even limitless. Pro-ball players at the top of their game are quite a bit harder to come by. Now let’s turn the page to terrorists.

The teenage Palestinian boy or girl who straps a bomb around the waist is a “terrorist.” The box-cutter-wielding adult who commandeers an airplane and takes the controls and flies into a target building is also a “terrorist.”

But Jihadists have a lot less trouble finding those “sandlot” terrorists who just have to dress up in a bomb and push the button when they reach the spot where they think that they can kill the most Jews. That kind of terrorist also requires very little money, little training, little secretive messaging back and forth on cell phones from Germany and elsewhere, and little lost if the child-bomber happens to blow it and kill nobody but himself.

On the other hand, recruiting and training airplane hijackers willing and able to smuggle box cutters or some equally effective substitute aboard a passenger plane today and commandeer that plane and fly it into a pre-planned target; that kind of performance calls for a proficiency much closer to a Superbowl than a sand lot. 9/11 proved terrorists could come up with such operatives, but there’s probably not much “depth on the bench.” The terrorists probably lack a deep pool of similarly trained and willing personnel waiting for the chance to show their skill, their mettle, and their evil.

The terrorists, therefore, don’t want a “Let’s-Roll-Pennsylvania-type” crash anymore than we do. They don’t want to waste “human resources” scorching shrubbery in a vacant field. Or even, with a slightly luckier crash site, killing a handful of Americans in a trailer park or a housing development.

The terrorists want to have the plane hit dead amidships on a World Trade Center, a Pentagon, a Capitol Building, a White House; name it.

Every pick-up artist knows it’s wiser to hit on the single woman at the bar rather than the woman who, no matter how attractive, has a fierce-looking guy at her side who, armed or unarmed, seems to like her as much as the predator does. Americans revere the heroic passengers who rise up to thwart the terrorist attempt to commandeer the plane resulting in a crash. There’s no evidence the Al-Qaeda-sympathizing folks share any such enthusiasm for their “martyrs” who try to hijack a plane and fail. They prefer the successful ones.

So, the terrible and terribly likely consequences of a cockpit shootout horrify all who know what can go wrong when guns are drawn and fired. The sweet-spot here is: THE TERRORISTS DON’T WANT THAT OUTCOME EITHER!

They’re not going to risk losing a team, not of “sandlot Jihadists,” but of trained and well-financed 9/11 types trying to take over a cockpit featuring armed pilots.

The sensible policy then is to knock down all those bureaucratic hurdles and make it easy for all pilots to be armed. Do more than that. Enact TV news producer Ted Kavanau’s idea of letting all American policemen fly free of charge provided they carry their guns with them. Extend that to all other American officials authorized to carry firearms.

You know how certain homes in areas protected by a security service with a good reputation hang out the warning decal of that service even if that particular home is NOT so protected. Good idea. Project the notion that we now have 100 percent armed cockpits, even as we speed to reach that level. And let the terrorists wonder how many policemen carrying arms, air marshals, and others happen to be on the flight they’d like to snatch.

If Osama bin Laden had the wisdom of Donald Trump, he would take the measure of any Jihadist who suggested a repeat of 9/11 in a universally-armed-cockpit America and say, “You’re Fired!”

[For more information on the Armed Pilot program see the Airline Pilots Security Alliance]

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