Terrorism: August 4, 2002

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: Throughout history, smart generals have maintained a reserve - one last punch that delivered smartly, can turn defeat into victory. The War on Terrorism is no different, although less-than-fully educated pundits with a political agenda may not be able to clearly see all the implications of America's encounter with 21st Century Asymmetrical Warfare - one of which is that this war requires the mobilization of a significant part of the civilian populace. 

Some civilians in key roles will need to be armed, the first of which should be civilian airliner pilots. The June 28 Strategypage column case against arming pilots addressed exaggerated concerns; that thousands of guns inside the security gates would create no end of nightmares for security forces, that terrorists could bushwhack pilots and take their weapons, that pistols are an accident waiting to happen because pilots are not law enforcement or soldiers.

None of these arguments hold water, because each and every "what if" could be applied to an Air Marshal. Donning a military or Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) uniform does not grant a man supernatural powers with a sidearm. American headlines are full of cases where LEOs have had firearms problems; accidental discharges, thefts, or even psychotic bouts ending in fatalities. One California National Guardsmen on airport duty managed to discharge his sidearm and wound himself in the buttocks. Quite simply, poor choices in selecting personnel for critical missions plagues every industry and organization.

Responsible small arms handling and use is a matter of training, whether the bearer is military, law enforcement or civilian. Properly trained, a mature adult can fly an airliner loaded with passengers and have the professional pride to make their charges' safety a sworn duty. The same individuals can easily handle the responsibility of carrying, securing and using a sidearm according to the whatever is decided will be the Rules Of Engagement (ROE) aboard a commercial aircraft. Training pilots in sidearm procedures would be relatively easy when compared to Air Marshals, since it would be made crystal clear to the pilots that their mission was only to defend the cockpit and not go hunting for terrorists in the passenger cabin.

From a tactical standpoint, rushing an armed cabin crew would be extremely unrewarding (even if the terrorists caught the crew with their new super-safety doors open). Many travelers unfamiliar with aircraft believe the Hollywood fantasy that a single pistol round penetrating an airliner's hull will cause a catastrophic decompression of the passenger cabin. For this reason, Air Marshals carry the Sig Sauer P229 with jacketed hollowpoint rounds - not the less-penetrative frangible Glaser "safety slugs".

Security experts have estimated that the government would need 100,000 Air Marshal agents to ride along on all air carrier flights, costing the government, airlines and travelers about $10 billion a year. Pilot unions have said the program would cost $30 million to start and $6 million each year in recurring training costs because they expect 20,000 to 30,000 of the nation's estimated 85,000 pilots to participate (most pistol courses of an applicable length offered by civilian schools average $1,000 per student). When Transportation Secretary Mineta voiced concern about the $860 million needed to arm and train pilots, one can only wonder who gave him that figure. Some institutions offered to help "for the flag" - on 12 September 2001, the "Front Sight" firearms training institute offered to train every commercial pilot in the world FREE OF CHARGE in handgun use (http://www.frontsight.com/gun_school_for_pilots.htm).

The government could also stipulate that they provide their own weapons and ammunition (although there would probably be caliber restrictions). This also means that roughly one out of every three or four pilots would be carrying a concealed sidearm. For a potential terrorist, that would pose an unpleasant guessing game - no matter how many practice flights they took.

The irony is that the Code of Federal Regulations governing aviation (Chapter 11, Part 108) adopted in 1981 provides that no person can carry a weapon onto a plane unless that person is "authorized to have the weapon by the certificate holder (airline) and has completed a course of training in the use of firearms acceptable to the Administrator (FAA)." Simply put, pilots could have been carrying all along. That regulation has not been changed and FAA officials acknowledged that the regulation is "on the books".

The nation's largest pilots unions have lobbied lawmakers to support bills that permit arming pilots who volunteer to carry a gun and undergo training. Ask yourself "why?". From the lack of Air Marshals to the gaping holes in security, pilots simply don't have the confidence that terrorists can be kept off of commercial flights. Neither apparently does Senator Ernest Hollings, head of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. At the beginning of the 25 July hearing on airline security, Hollings stated that instead of guns, pilots should simply be prohibited from opening the new stronger cockpit doors at all in flight. This "Maginot Line" mentality has failed many times throughout history, although one could also equate this moral stand as having a minefield not covered by fire on the battlefield (and therefore, no more threat than a temporary delay to an enemy). 

Underlying all of the arguments against armed pilots is a political agenda held by a vocal elitist minority in American politics - the restriction of ownership and use of personally-owned firearms. This minority have no qualms about compromising the nation's safety during wartime in deference to furthering their own agenda, which really shouldn't be a surprise to students of political and military history. One wonders how often Hollings takes commercial flights with the rest of the populace, and without his own retinue of armed guards.

On 30 July, Hollings said he would not stand in the way of a vote on the issue. Bill sponsor Senator Burns said he would seek a vote in September. Chalk that up as another battle won by those willing and able to defend civilization. - Adam Geibel

Air Line Pilots Association argument http://www.alpa.org/internet/tm/tm050202.html.

 

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