The recent controversy over arming airline pilots against a
possible repetition of the 9/11 atrocity misses a crucial problem that
makes arming pilots relatively ineffective: terrorists would know in
advance where the guns are, and be able to game against that.
Let’s say you are a terrorist executing a hijacking. You know the pilots
are armed. Then here are your tactics — you send the pilots a message that
you will begin shooting cabin crew and passengers, one every five minutes,
until the pilots throw their guns into the main cabin. Just to make sure,
you split your gang into an A team and a B team. After the pilots have
thrown out some guns, you send the A team into the cockpit. If the pilots
resist, the B team kills more people.
Sky marshals can be taken out in a similar way. Your B team, armed
with knives, breaks cover and announces the hijacking. The sky
marshals (if there are any present; they’re now flying on less than 1%
of planes, and can’t be trained fast enough for that figure to go up
significantly in the foreseeable future) break cover. Now your A
team, armed with guns, breaks cover and disposes of the sky marshals.
Anyone who thinks either scenario can be prevented by keeping
firearms off-board should put down that crack pipe now.
Tiger team exercises after 9/11 have repeatedly
demonstrated that the new, improved airport security has had
effectively zero impact on a determined bad-guy’s ability to sneak
weapons past checkpoints — it’s still easy. Despite government spin,
there is no prospect this will change; the underlying problem is just
For terrorists to be effectively deterred, they need to face a
conterthreat they cannot scope out in advance. That’s why the right
solution is to arm the passengers, not just the pilots.
Now, as a terrorist, you would be facing an unknown number of guns
potentially pointed at you from all directions. Go ahead; take that
flight attendant hostage. You can’t use her to make people give up
weapons neither you nor she knows they have. You have to assume
you’re outnumbered, and you dare not turn your back on
anyone, because you don’t know who might be packing.
The anti-gun bien pensants of the world wet their pants at
the thought of flying airplanes containing hundreds of armed
civilians. They would have you believe that this would be a sure
recipe for carnage on every flight, an epidemic of berserk yahoos
blowing bullet holes through innocent bystanders and the cabin walls.
When you ask why this didn’t happen before 1971 when there were no
firearms restrictions on airplanes, they evade the question.
The worst realistic case from arming passengers is that some gang
of terrorist pukes tries to bust a move anyway, and innocent
bystanders get killed by stray bullets while the passengers are taking
out the terrorists. That would be bad — but, post-9/11, the major
aim of air security can no longer be saving passenger lives. Instead,
it has to be preventing the use of airplanes as weapons of mass
destruction. Thus: we should arm the passengers to save the lives of
thousands more bystanders on the ground.
And, about that stray-bullet thing. Airplanes aren’t balloons.
They don’t pop when you put a round through the fuselage. A handful
of bullet holes simply cannot leak air fast enough to be dangerous;
there would be plenty of time to drop the plane into the troposphere.
To sidestep the problem, encourage air travelers to carry fragmenting
ammunition like Glaser rounds.
Think of it. No more mile-long security lines, no more obnoxious
baggage searches, no more women getting groped by bored security
guards, no more police-state requirement that you show an ID before
boarding, no more flimsy plastic tableware. Simpler, safer, faster
air travel with a bullet through the head reserved for terrorists.
Extending this lesson to other circumstances, like when we’re
not surrounded by a fuselage, is left as an exercise for