Airline security and the debate over arming pilots

 Editor's Note:   By prohibiting pilots from carrying firearms to defend themselves, their airplanes and their passengers, the federal government is making its position clear:  The government does not want to admit that there is any case in which it is beneficial for a private citizen — no matter how responsible, stable or respectable — to have a firearm available for self-defense.

Police officers seem to have some special Jedi-like mastery over handguns that private citizens can never hope to obtain.*

Lies, Lies, Lies:  A case study in journalistic malpractice.  When I open my homepage, the first trending story on the top right is:  "Judge allowed Kyle Rittenhouse to draw jurors from a raffle box to determine the 12 who will decide the verdict of his homicide trial." [...] At this point, if I've been scanning Twitter casually for the news, I become alarmed.  The defendant selected his jurors?  The judge allowed him to do this?  It takes me a lot of scrolling to get to that phrase "at random," and then it seems only to apply to the six jurors who will serve as alternates. [...] There is no story here.  It's nothing, a total irrelevancy, a meaningless controversy confected out of thin air.  Confected by whom?  By our press, in collusion with the unaccountable tech corporations that now run our public square.  It's not like they met in some back room to plot it all out.  They don't have to:  they are in total agreement about how this case needs to go.

Someone tell CNN's Chris Cillizza that words actually matter in the gun control debate.  The debate over gun control rages after mass shootings, and it is almost painful to watch how poorly reporters try and stumble around an issue they're apparently not familiar with reporting.  When reporters use terms such as "automatic rounds" and "semi-automatic machine guns," the public is less informed on public policy.  There is no such thing as an "automatic round" or "semi-automatic machine guns," but the terms sound intimidating and mislead the public into thinking they exist.  Chris Cillizza wrote an article at CNN that is loaded with errors and shouldn't have made it past an editor with any knowledge of firearms and firearm laws.

Legally Armed Citizens Are The Very First Responders.  Media giants like the New York Times are going to unprecedented lengths to politicize the San Bernardino massacre.  The Second Amendment they hate is actually the first defense against terrorism.  One of the first adaptations that this country made to the new post-9/11 world was a sky marshal on every flight.  Fourteen years later, there isn't a soul in this nation who'd want to take a passenger jet anywhere without that unknown gun-toting protector aboard.  Who knows how many terrorist plots those many hundreds of brave law enforcers have deterred?

Airline Pilot Confirms White House Trying to Make it Easier to Hijack Planes.  It's no secret that President Obama hates guns.  We all know that.  But what would you say if I told you that our fearless leader is trying to remove the most effective method of preventing terrorism since the 9/11 attacks?  Captain Tracy W. Price, a 25-year veteran with a major U.S. airline and the president of the Airline Security Consultant Group, recently spoke with the Washington Times about Obama's constant attempts to destroy the Federal Flight Deck Officer program.

Time to Arm Airline Passengers?  As opposed to the increasingly absurd steps being taken to identify and keep weapons off commercial aircraft, it would be advisable and practical to identify and empower volunteer counter-terrorists among the passengers, initially at least on domestic flights or on international flights by domestic carriers.  This could even extend to arming those passengers on the aircraft.

Flight attendant arrested for carrying 9mm handgun in airport.  A female flight attendant was arrested Friday morning [6/4/2010], after police said she was carrying a 9mm handgun in her carry-on bag.  TSA officers reportedly recognized the gun in her bag and called airport police.

Armed Pilots and Dead Terrorists.  The FFDO (Federal Flight Deck Officer) program was implemented by the Bush Administration working with law enforcement, airline management and pilot unions.  Pilots with guns were a way to augment the Federal Air Marshall Service which was already in place and quickly expanded.  Recent rumors indicate that the Obama administration will attempt to de-fund the FFDO program.  I think it would be a huge loss to security and a big mistake.

Obama secretly ends program that let pilots carry guns.  After the September 11 attacks, commercial airline pilots were allowed to carry guns if they completed a federal-safety program.  No longer would unarmed pilots be defenseless as remorseless hijackers seized control of aircraft and rammed them into buildings.  Now President Obama is quietly ending the federal firearms program, risking public safety on airlines in the name of an anti-gun ideology.

Obama Blasted for Diverting Money From Armed Pilots Program.  A Second Amendment group is blasting the Obama administration for quietly seeking to end the program that allows pilots — after special training — to carry guns in the cockpit.  The move will make air travel more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, something that should outrage travelers, said the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA) said.

On the other hand...
Gun program for pilots set for expansion, officials insist.  The Obama administration has no plans to end a program that trains commercial airline pilots to carry guns and thwart terrorist attacks, and in fact is seeking to expand resources for oversight and training, government officials and pilots organizations say.  "We're looking for new resources and more money to bring in for next year.  The benefits of the program are obvious.  The pilots are an intrinsic part of our whole aviation-security strategy and one of our layers of security," said Robert Bray, director of the Federal Air Marshal Service, which oversees the program.

Updated 11/23/2007:
This controversy had disappeared from the media radar for a couple of years, when this incident brought it back to life:

Pilot arrested had blood alcohol level of 0.016.  Airport police say they will not file charges against a Midwest Airlines pilot who was arrested at the airport before a flight last week.

Note:  An earlier report from the same source said,
"Sources told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that Acree was not only drunk, but armed.  Acree was found carrying a government-issued .40 caliber handgun."[1]
But that report has now gone down the media memory hole.  Only Google's cache still has it.  There was also this one:
"Since he's a federal flight deck officer, he's issued a government-issued handgun.  He allegedly had that on him at the time of his arrest."[2]
When I heard this story, I thought it was odd that I hadn't heard anything recently about pilots being armed, especially since there was so much debate about this a few years ago.  Now I wonder if the charges were dropped in order to keep this issue quiet.

Midwest Pilot Cleared Of Drinking On The Job.  A Midwest airlines pilot was arrested for drinking just before his flight, but was he really drunk, or did police jump the gun?  Airport police in Minneapolis claimed that the pilot failed a sobriety test.  His blood alcohol was .016.  That's enough to register on a breath test, but it's so low, he would still be allowed to fly under federal law.

Updated 3/27/2008:
Pilot's Gun Goes off on U.S. Airways Flight.  Officials say the unnamed pilot was allowed to carry the weapon as part of the Transportation Security Administration's Federal Flight Deck Officer program.  It was created after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.  The program allows eligible crew members — including pilots, navigators and flight engineers — to use a firearm to defend against any act of air piracy or criminal violence.

Pilot's gun fires during US flight; no one injured.  The Transportation Security Administration's Federal Flight Deck Officer program allows eligible crew members — including pilots, navigators and flight engineers — to use a firearm to defend against any act of air piracy or criminal violence.  Alter said the TSA is investigating how the gun discharged, with the Air Marshal's Service's assistance.  The TSA referred questions to the Air Marshal's Service.

Here is the scoop on the program, straight from the TSA:

Federal Flight Deck Officers:  Under this program, eligible flight crewmembers are authorized by the Transportation Security Administration Office of Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service to use firearms to defend against an act of criminal violence or air piracy attempting to gain control of an aircraft.  A flight crew member may be a pilot, flight engineer or navigator assigned to the flight.

More than 10% of pilots allowed to fly armed.  The TSA, which has declined to disclose the number of armed pilots, revealed in a recent budget document that 10.8% of airline crewmembers were authorized to carry guns.  The Federal Air Marshal Service, a TSA agency that runs the armed-pilots program, reports that 85,000 to 90,000 pilots and crewmembers flying domestic passenger and cargo planes are eligible to carry a gun.

Pistol Packing Pilots Say TSA Program is "Flawed".  There are 85,000-90,000 pilots and crew members eligible to carry a gun in the cockpit of a domestic aircraft as part of the Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDO) Program run by the TSA.  Approximately 10% of these folks currently fly armed.

This is an original compilation, Copyright © 2013 by Andrew K. Dart

The title of this article says it all.
Guns in Cockpits — It's Not About Airline Safety, It's About Gun Control:  Are you enjoying the debate in Washington over whether pilots should be allowed to have guns in airline cockpits?  If you're paying attention, you need to be aware of one thing.  The people who oppose armed pilots aren't focusing on airline safety — they're merely focusing on their anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment agenda.

Coming soon:  Pilots packing heat.  Groups applaud landmark bill allowing for armed aircrews.

Guns in the cockpit:  Arming pilots is not a new idea.  In fact, airline pilots flew armed in large numbers from the dawn of commercial aviation to 1987 with no record of incident.  When the federal government disarmed pilots in 1987, many pilots predicted cockpit takeover attempts — including the late Captain Victor Saracini, who, in horrible irony, was the captain of United flight 175 on September 11, 2001 when his Boeing 767 was hijacked and crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  It was the disarming of pilots in 1987 that inevitably led to the September 11 cockpit takeovers.

U.S. air marshals say bullets too powerful.  U.S. air marshals have been complaining since November the bullets they are issued are far too powerful to be used safely within an aircraft.

Invitation to Terror:  This Plane Is a Gun-Free Zone.  Imagine that you are a terrorist selecting one of two airlines as your next victim.  The first airline boasts in its ads, "Our Planes Are Gun-Free Zones."  The second says that "One or More Employees Will Be Armed on Every Flight."  Not much question which one you'd fly.

When will our pilots be armed?  Despite all the concern about hypothetical risks, arming pilots is not some new experiment.  About 70 percent of the pilots at major American airlines have military backgrounds, and military pilots flying outside the U.S. are required to carry handguns with them whenever they flew military planes.  Until the early 1960s, American commercial passenger pilots on any flight carrying U.S. mail were required to carry handguns.  The requirement started at the beginning of commercial aviation to insure that pilots could defend the mail if their plane were to ever crash.  In contrast to the current program, there were no training or screening requirements.  Indeed, pilots were still allowed to carry guns until as recently as 1987.

Give Pilots Guns.  An angry, frustrated, and often frightened American public needs something to believe in when it comes to aviation security, and to date our government has failed to provide it.

Marshals Are Good, But Armed Pilots Are Better.  The U.S. experience can provide Europeans with some valuable lessons on the limitations of armed marshals.  To effectively cover most flights today, the marshals program in the U.S. would cost $20 billion per year.  Only a small fraction of flights to Europe have marshals and then only one day a week.  A cost effective additional layer of security is to let pilots carry guns.

Skewed air safety priorities.  While one could perhaps envisage a scenario in which shooting down a commercial passenger aircraft would be the lesser of two evils, would not shooting a single terrorist be clearly preferable?  Would it not be better to arm airline pilots rather than scrambling F-16s to shoot down the entire aircraft?  Yet, even though Congress has mandated the arming of airline pilots, the administration continues to drag its feet in carrying out this vital and reasonable measure to protect air passengers and crews.

El Al hires female air marshals.  Israel's airline has women undergo the same rigorous training as men.

Pilots' group wants crews to be armed.  The Airline Pilots' Security Alliance says it is advocating "a controlled, well thought out, rational and safe program for arming carefully screened and trained airline pilots with firearms," according to the group's website.

No Guns for Pilots; They're Too Busy, or Something:  A story by Jim Burns of CNSNews on May 21 said, "The federal government Tuesday said pilots will not be allowed to have guns in the cockpit on commercial airline flights."  The main reason given seems to be that the pilots are too busy up there, intently studying dials and levers and all, such that to shoot at anybody who might want to steal their airplane would be a dangerous diversion.

Thousands of Pilots Won't Fly Armed, Blame TSA.  The federal agency charged with providing security for U.S. airlines, and the airlines themselves are intentionally sabotaging the congressionally-mandated program to train and certify pilots who volunteer to carry guns in the cockpit, according to supporters of the program who claim tens of thousands of pilots have opted out as a result.

Time to arm our pilots:  Nearly a year has passed since the worst act of terrorism in America's history.  The World Trade Center site is clear, the sky above is empty.  And fear of another deadly attack remains.  A so-called miscommunication between pilot and air traffic controllers recently led the government to scramble two F-16s to escort a jet to Baltimore-Washington airport.  America must prevent terrorists ever again from turning a civilian aircraft into a de facto cruise missile.  Yet airline security remains a leaky sieve.

Armed Pilots Mean Nationalized Airlines:  The reason the government won't allow pilots to be armed is that the airlines absolutely don't want it.  And why are they scared silly about the thought of pilots with guns?  Because in our litigious society they couldn't possibly handle the liability.  Someone would sue the airlines the first day the pilots carried guns.

Arming Pilots Is the Best Way to Get Air Security:  While the exact number of federal air marshals has not been made public, a report in the Washington Post claimed that there were fewer than 1,000 across the nation, and only a fraction of those were available on any given day.

Pilots' group decries missile deployment:  The Airline Pilots' Security Alliance and other groups, including some pilots' unions, have said that arming pilots against potential terrorist hijackers is a quicker, cheaper and more efficient way to ensure air safety.

Pilots and Guns:  In a stunning reversal, California's liberal Senator Barbara Boxer has come out in favor of allowing airline pilots to carry guns if they wish, while the Bush administration opposes it. Although Sen. Boxer is a staunch supporter of gun control, on this particular issue she clearly understands that it is better to have an armed pilot than to have to order a military plane to shoot down one of our own commercial airliners.

September 11 Pilot's Widow Supports Arming Pilots with Guns:  The widow of a pilot killed by terrorists in the September 11 attacks said Thursday [7/18/2002] she supports commercial airline pilots being armed with guns as a "last line of defense" to prevent another such tragedy.

Bush Flying Blind on Armed Pilots Issue:  President George W. Bush must be preoccupied with overseas strategy, because he has allowed his administration to take a politically disastrous position against the arming of airline pilots.  Polls show strong support from both pilots and the public for allowing guns in the cockpit.

Bush's armed-pilot plan called a "bad joke":  A commercial pilots' group that strongly supports allowing flight crews to carry firearms has criticized a White House plan to arm only a small number of fliers and instead wants lawmakers to pass legislation authorizing guns in cockpits.

House Passes Armed Pilots Bill:  The House of Representatives has passed legislation to allow commercial airline pilots to carry guns in the cockpit, provided they complete mandated training and federal background checks.

Bush Choosing "Gun Control Over Terrorist Control":  The Libertarian Party says President George W. Bush, not the anti-gun liberals in his administration, is directly responsible for why America's commercial airline pilots remain defenseless against terrorists.

Would Mohamen Atta object to armed pilots?  It's going to be difficult for the pilot to fly the plane after the cockpit has been stormed by Arabs.  Whatever could go wrong at that point — a wounded passenger, a hole in the side of the plane, terrorists wresting control of the gun — is better than the alternative.

Arming Airline Pilots a Must:  Take Action Now!  Most pilots begin their careers as military pilots, so they are already trained in the safe and responsible use of firearms.  Not granting them the authority to completely defend the integrity of the cockpit, we feel, is nothing short of negligence.

20,000 pilots demand firearms in cockpits:  Petitioners cite "over-reliance on passenger screenings to keep terrorists off our aircraft".

Pilots Beg Bush to Allow Guns:  America's airline pilots are imploring President Bush to let them carry firearms to protect themselves and passengers from terrorists.  Though most Americans are pro-choice on this issue, the White House is not.

FAA began "disarming" pilots in 1987:  Despite a rule dating to the 1960s that allowed them to have guns onboard.

Threat of "Drunk Pilots" Irrelevant to Need For Guns in Cockpits:  "If they're in control of the airplane and they're intoxicated, is the fact that they've got a firearm really that big a concern?", former FAA security chief Bobbie Vincent asked.

Guns in Responsible Hands: The Best Defense Against Terrorism in the Air:  In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist skyjackings in New York and Washington, D.C., in which misguided thugs sought martyrdom by turning commercial airliners into guided missiles, many proposals have been put forward to ensure that such terrible events never occur again.  Unfortunately, arming pilots, the policy most likely to effectively deter or prevent future terrorists skyjackings (suicidal or not), is being treated with disdain by gun control groups. Evidently, they hate and fear guns more than they care about passenger safety.

Airlines Accused of Trading "Safety for Victory":  An airline pilots' group says it was pressure from the airlines' political lobbying group - not fear of potential mishaps - that led the government to forbid commercial airline pilots from carrying guns.  The Airline Pilots' Security Alliance (APSA) accused the Air Transport Association (ATA) of influencing the government's decision.

N.Y. Times Tries to Manipulate Public Opinion on Arming Pilots:  Once again the New York Times is using its news pages to manipulate public opinion — this time using a story about arming pilots in a blatantly obvious attempt to turn Americans against letting pilots have the right to carry guns against hijackers.

New York Times Continues Spin Against Arming Pilots:  The Times has found a reason to oppose the bill arming airline pilots.  It would upset trial lawyers!

Is bureaucracy stalling armed-pilot legislation?  Some suggest Magaw opposes guns in cockpits due to competition with new air-marshal program.

Armed pilots banned two months before 9-11:  A 40-year-old FAA rule that allowed commercial airline pilots to be armed was inexplicably rescinded two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, leading aviation security experts to lay at least some of the blame for the tragedy at the feet of airlines, none of which took advantage of the privilege while it was in effect.

No-draw Magaw:  With a stroke of the pen, one un-elected and unaccountable federal bureaucrat — whose name may not be familiar to you — recently ruled that airline pilots may not keep firearms in their cockpits.  His name is John Magaw, or, as I call him, "No-Draw Magaw."

Bill addresses liability of armed pilots:  A federal bill that would allow commercial airline pilots to be armed contains a provision that absolves both airlines and pilots from legal liability should innocent parties be harmed during attempts to thwart a hijacking.

Why Won't FAA Let Pilots Protect The Passengers?  Incredibly, just as Congress is passing laws designed to make air travel safer, the Federal Aviation Agency is passing regulations that will make it more dangerous.  On Nov. 14, a change to Section 108 of the FAA regulations will go into effect that strips pilots of their ability to defend themselves and their passengers through the prudent use of firearms.

Transportation Secretary Urged to Arm Pilots Now:  President Bush signed it into law nearly three weeks ago, but the provision allowing pilots to carry firearms is taking too much time to implement, according to two U.S. House Republicans.

Hero in the cockpit:  In light of the recent terrorist attacks and the ensuing debates over whether pilots should be armed, this 1954 incident illustrates a forgotten time when pilots not only routinely carried pistols, but were required to carry them.

Major Networks Refuse Guns - Pilots Ad:  Major media networks have refused to air a 60 second commercial calling for President Bush, the FAA, and the airlines to arm commercial pilots.

 September 20, 2001:   FAA Plans to Disarm Flight Crews:  A new Federal Aviation Regulation would take away the right of pilots, co-pilots, and navigators to carry firearms and other weapons for self-defense.

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Updated November 18, 2017.
©2017 by Andrew K. Dart