10/01 Strange Priorities

Strange Priorities
Larry Pratt

If the subject wasn’t so deadly serious — literally deadly serious — some of the things being suggested to combat terrorist hijackers would be laughable. For example, a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal (9/28/2001) quotes one American Airlines pilot as having actually told his passengers to do the following if someone stands up, brandishes something such as a plastic knife, and announces he’s hijacking the plane: “Everyone should stand up and immediately throw things at him — pillows, blankets, books, shoes — anything that will throw him off balance and distract him.”

But, terrorist hijackers do not need to be thrown off balance or distracted. They need to be killed, preferably shot dead, the sooner the better.

In this same Journal article, another pilot is quoted, in an e-mail, as urging passenger pilots facing a hijacker to: “Drive your fingers into his eye and and try to feel your fingernails scrape the back of his eye sockets. Scoop the eyeballs out…. Command that all men come forward and fight with the hijackers.”

But, these suggestions are absurd. They are no substitute for what is required: Armed pilots and armed passengers that have permits to carry guns. As John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2000), says in this same edition of the Journal regarding terrorist hijackers: “The only adequate response is to encourage more ordinary, responsible citizens to carry guns, as Israel has done…. The use of guns to stop terrorists shouldn’t be limited to airplanes. We should encourage off-duty police, and responsible citizens, to carry guns in most public places. Cops can’t be everywhere.”

Lott adds:

    States that pass concealed handgun laws experience drops in violent crimes, especially in multiple victim shootings — the type of attack most associated with terrorism… deaths and injuries from multiple victim public shootings fell by 80 percent after states passed right-to-carry laws.

    Passing right-to-carry laws might even deter terrorist attacks. True, some terrorists are suicidal, but they still want to cause maximum carnage. They know the ‘return’ on their terrorism would rapidly diminish to the vanishing point if faced with gun-wielding ‘victims.’

Still, incredibly — despite the horrific terrorist slaughter of September 11, 2001 — there are Nervous Nellies who grasp at any straw in their opposition to armed pilots. On CBS’ Early Show (9/26/2001), co-host Bryant Gumbel interviews Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association. He says to Woerth: “I’m not an expert on either firearms or aircraft, but wouldn’t the discharge of a loaded pistol in an aircraft, in flight, depressurize the cabin?” Answer: No, because there is ammunition called “frangible bullets” which “break up on impact, do quite a bit of damage to a human being, but do not even knock out a window let alone puncture the fuselage…. No problem.”

Undaunted by what he accurately says is his lack of expertise on either firearms or aircraft, Gumbel wonders if you aren’t asking “for a world of problems you didn’t have before” if “you introduce a loaded pistol into the environment of an airport.”

Well, excuse me, but we had a “world of problems” on September 11, 2001 — thousands murdered by terrorist hijackers — precisely because no pilot or passenger on any of the crashed planes had guns to defend themselves!

Earth to Bryant Gumbel: Wake up, please!!

Gumbel, evidently more afraid of armed pilots than armed terrorist hijackers, presses on. But, what about pilots, he asks? He notes that they are, after all, human beings. And this means they might suffer from problems involving fatigue, depression, alcohol. So, “why should anyone feel safe with an armed weapon (sic) in the hands of a pilot who’s suffering at that time?”

Patiently, Duane Woerth replies that he doesn’t think a person would be a pilot if he had these problems. He adds: “But, again, these guys are going to be trained by FBI standards and plus meet all the other requirements we have of Federal air marshals to have that weapon. So, we’re not decreasing anybody’s standards and [are] insisting on the highest standards.”

On Fox TV’s The O’Reilly Factor (9/25/2001), Michael Pangia, a former counsel for the FAA, also wrings his hands concerning the possibility of armed pilots. He doesn’t think this “problem,” as he calls it, has been “adequately studied.”

Pangia asks us to consider this hypothetical scenario: A door like we have now on a plane is broken into. The pilot and co-pilot are not trained as sky marshals are and don’t know how to deal with terrorists and crimes. He asks, regarding such an armed pilot: “You want to turn that guy into a Matt Dillon?”

Well, yes! I remember well the old show Gun Smoke. And Marshal Matt Dillon always got his man!

But, Pangia’s imaginary scenario is ludicrous. From now on, planes will not have doors to the cockpit like we have now. No way. And if an official decision is made to arm pilots they will be trained at least as well as sky marshals.

Let me, however, give Mr. Pangia a scenario. Let’s say you have four planes. None of the pilots have guns to defend themselves; ditto all the passengers. Because of this, 19 terrorist hijackers, armed with only knives and boxcutters, take the planes over, crash them and murder thousands. Sad to say, this scenario is not hypothetical. It happened on September 11, 2001.

On September 26, 2001, USA Today ran an editorial cartoon which showed two pilots in a cockpit. One is saying to the other: “Flaps up… Gun cocked… Ready for departure.” Sounds good to me. And I predict that any airline whose pilots are so prepared will have a lot of passengers.

An editorial in the Atlanta Constitution (9/26/2001) says the idea of arming pilots is “too ludicrous and dangerous to be considered… now is not the time to lose our heads.” Nor was it the time to lose our planes to murderous terrorist hijackers. But, we did, with disastrous results. To try and assure that this never, ever happens again, pilots and passengers must be armed.