After the September 11th attacks on America’s homeland, citizens became aware that action must be taken to protect passengers and pilots from terrorists. Although strict security measures have been put in place at all American airports, the only way to be certain that another terrorist attack does not occur using commercial aircraft lies in arming pilots with handguns. Not only will arming pilots help act as a preventative measure, it will ensure safer air travel and restore faith in America’s main form of long distance travel.
Even though the number of hijackings is minuscule compared to the number of flights, arming pilots would be a first line of deterrence and a last line of defense. Some people may argue that other means should be used to stop hijackers, but as is the case with any illegal activity, if a person wants to commit a crime they will find the means. Therefore, the only way to prevent aircraft hijackings is with the use of guns. One alternative way that has been suggested is arming pilots with tasers, electric shock probes.
These are considered problematic by many experts and do not guarantee bringing down a hijacker. As Criminal Justice expert Michael Swedemen said, “Had the pilots on the ill-fated planes on September 11th had stun guns, they might have dropped one of the hijackers, but the remaining three or four still would have overpowered the plane” (Dougherty, 2002, January 22). Arming pilots would also aid airlines in recovering from the economic downfall that has plagued the industry since the attacks.
With armed pilots, passengers would know they are safe from any possibility of a hijacking and the only thing that might cause catastrophic damage would be an unforeseen mechanical problem. Should hijackers be among the passengers they could easily be brought down with guns similar to that of a defiant criminal. Opponents have argued that a stray bullet might penetrate the fuselage or inadvertently hit an innocent passenger. The Air Line Pilot’s Association has called for arming pilots using special ammunition that can kill an attacker but not pierce the fuselage (Dougherty, 2002, January 22).
Hitting an innocent passenger is a risk that must be taken. One innocent life lost is far better than the possible countless losses on the hijacked aircraft and immanent destruction resulting on the ground. If passengers know that hijackers cannot take control of the plane, millions of Americans would once again begin flying which would improve economic conditions in a hurting industry.
Other questions lie in the ability and mental state of a pilot to carry weapons. Senator Bob Smith (R-N. H. said, “Commercial pilots are trusted with the lives of thousands of Americans every day, and with proper training they could … protect our skies from future acts of terrorism” (Dougherty, 2002, March 19). Pilots are some of the most mentally, physically, and psychologically tested people with hand/eye coordination that is among the best in any profession. Issuing firearms to pilots would, in effect, be like issuing a gun to a police officer. A pilot should be able to defend his aircraft instead of being left defenseless.
The second amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. As this is true for a homeowner to protect his family and himself, this should be true for pilots and their aircraft should they come under attack. Although the idea of using air marshals still exists, they are seen as being less effective. Along with ineffectiveness, the cost of placing an air marshal on every flight is unrealistic. A pilot who has undergone the proper training can perform the same task while being paid by the airlines, rather than spending taxpayer’s dollars (Shaw, 2001, September 19).
As support for handguns in the cockpit grows, we must ask ourselves if four guns had been in the cockpit on September 11th would 3,000 people be dead, two 110 story buildings have been brought down, the Pentagon attacked, and a nation left in shock? Americans must realize that committed terrorists will be able to get past security, leaving pilots as the last line of defense. Along with pilots, many Americans feel these measures have to be taken in order to make the friendly skies, friendly again.