Arming the Troops in the Sky

by Vin Suprynowicz -- Las Vegas Review-Journal

From the days of open cockpits, up through the 1950s, federal regulations required commercial pilots to pack sidearms if they were carrying the mail.

Then, for another 40 years, an FAA rule adopted in the era of the Cuban missile crisis at least "allowed" commercial pilots to carry guns to help prevent hijackings -- though that rule "was inexplicably rescinded two months before the Sept. 11 (2001) terrorist attacks" Jon Dougherty reported on WorldNetDaily on May 16.

The rule required airlines to apply to the FAA for approval of a firearms training course before "allowing" their pilots to carry guns in the cockpit. But, "The aviation agency said... that throughout the life of the rule not a single U.S. air carrier took advantage of it, effectively rendering it 'moot,' " Dougherty reports.

Don Worley, who flew for the now-defunct Bonanza Airlines in the 1960s, remembers it a little differently. He told John Fund of The Wall Street Journal last year that, "His airline started a voluntary training program in 1965 to arm its pilots after a man shot and killed (a) pilot and co-pilot on another airline and caused the plane to crash, killing 44. The training was initially given in Las Vegas," after which Bonanza pilots were "allowed" to carry .38-caliber pistols.

But, "The program ended when other countries wouldn't allow armed pilots to land," Worley recalled.

Immediately after Sept. 11, the groundswell of calls for re-arming our commercial pilots grew so loud that even the gun-hating TV networks couldn't keep it under wraps. And in July the House of Representatives approved a new bill, 310-113, again "allowing" pilots to carry guns. The Senate concurred on Sept. 5, voting 87-6 to "allow" guns in the cockpit, in a matching bill which exempts airlines and their pilots from gun-use liability (except for "gross negligence or willful misconduct") as well as from local victim disarmament laws.

The mechanism? Pilots are allowed to volunteer to become "federal flight deck officers," with the previous veto power of the airlines and the Transportation Security Administration over such choices now removed.

So far so good. Pilot Marc Feigenblatt, vice chairman of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance (which has fought for the right to go armed on duty) enthused, "It's a done deal now. We could... have armed pilots by early next year."

Paid to be skeptical, I decided to call me friend Pete the Pilot, who flies Airbuses, to ask if that matched what the guys in the air are actually hearing. "They're still attempting to work it out," Pete says. "It's still way up in the air."

"I've had several discussions with different sets of the federal air marshals that ride with us occasionally. The problem some of them bring up is, what about when (pilots) are not on the aircraft? I said, 'I will carry my weapon off the aircraft just like you do.'" The issue is a legitimate one. The federal statute would appear to override local crime-promoting legislation by "allowing" pilots to fly armed through "gun control" territory, but what about going to and from the restaurant and hotel during a 24-hour layover in Los Angeles or New York City?

"If I have a trip that has me in Vegas tonight, during that whole period of time that I'm on a 'published procedure,' I will be responsible for the weapon. But this is another point in contention -- is it going to be the company's gun and they're going to keep it on the aircraft in some kind of a storage box? The air marshal tells me, 'You've got to have your own gun because each gun handles differently,' and I agree."

And Pete is particularly concerned that the gun-haters may end up with some plan to keep the cockpit gun permanently out of sight in a lock box.

"How do you know the gun is going to be in an operable condition when you get to it? Who's watching out for the gun? There are going to be chain of custody issues. But if it's my gun I'm always responsible for that gun, 24/7. You'd think the airline would like that, and that's the way we want it."

"So basically I think what they're going to do is make it such an onerous inconvenience to carry the weapon, just day-to-day carry, plus they'll make the training requirement so onerous that most of the guys are going to just not do it... I think it's going to be a very small percentage who are going to bother."

But Pete's biggest concern is that the government is once again employing the "one-size-fits-all" planning process which allowed the terrorists of Sept. 11 to confidently count on each air crew responding to them in exactly the same, pre-programmed way.

"The Sept. 11 thing would not have been prevented by the measures that are in place now," Pete points out. "It wasn't about the fact those guys had their little box-cutters; it was about the way the FAA ran a 20-year training program where all the airlines and their crews were trained every year in what they called 'the common strategy.' We trained in it every year again and again, not to resist.

"Those hijackers knew the way the crews were trained to respond, it's only the rare guy who would step outside the box. If they'd just run into the one guy who said, `I'm going to take my flight axe and whack you in the (expletive) head,' that would have stopped it, and a lot of those people would be alive today. But I haven't seen one newscast that said what caused Sept. 11 is the way the government, the FAA, trained the crews to all react the same way, a predictable way."

"And once again there's going to be 'one best way' to store the gun, a 'one best plan' for how you deploy the gun, and as soon as that's settled, the terrorists are going to start studying our new 'one best way.' They're going to start using their little brains and figuring out a weakness and it's going to happen again."

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal and author of the books Send in the Waco Killers and The Ballad of Carl Drega.

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