Last month President Trump said air travel is safe because he’s tough on the airlines.
This pasat week he said air travel is safe because some pilots carry guns.
At a meeting Wednesday with survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, their parents and family members of victims of other school shootings, President Trump claimed that “a lot” of airline pilots carry guns and the skies are safer because of it.
“You know a lot of people don’t understand that a lot of airline pilots now — a lot of them carry guns,” Trump said. “And … I have to say that things have changed a lot. People aren’t attacking the way they would routinely attack, and maybe you have the same situation in schools.”
While there’s been some discussion that he might have been referring to air marshals there’s no argument that they have increased safety and indeed they’ve brought guns past security and left them behind in the bathroom more than once.
Meanwhile an air marshal “pulled his gun in a dispute over a parking space” and another one fired their gun inside a Las Vegas hotel room, another fired theirs in a Phoenix bar fight. One tried to hire a hit man. We spend $200 million per arrest in the air marshal program, and most arrests are just passengers behaving about as badly as air marshals.
What’s actually at issue is the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program. Authorized under 49 USC 44921 flight crew members can become deputized federal law enforcement officers licensed and trained to use firearms to defend terrorist attempts to take control of an aircraft or other violent acts. The number of participating pilots is classified. The Obama administration diverted funding from the program in 2009, and tried to reduce funding for the program in 2012 arguing that it was unnecessary.
There have certainly been embarrassing moments for armed pilots. In 2008 a US Airways pilot’s gun went off accidentally during a flight from Denver to Charlotte. The bullet went through the cockpit and created a hole in the exterior of the aircraft.
In 2011 a jetBlue pilot lost his gun when a passenger picked up the bag he was using to carry it. Two and a half years ago a United pilot tossed ammunition in the trash. And flushed ammo down a lavatory toilet.
Of course these three incidents are incredibly rare compared to the number of commercial flights, although it’s difficult to know how it compares to the number of commercial flights with armed pilots.
Certainly reinforced cockpit doors and the huge shift in passenger mindset to no longer remain docile in an attack — assuming that a terrorist takeover of an aircraft would mean death rather than a hostage situation that resolves itself — make attacks more difficult to carry off although the government admits there really haven’t been any credible threats in the years following 9/11.
To the extent we do have concerns about terrorism risk, and given that the TSA misses 90% – 95% of threats, a last line of defense may not be ideal but could be necessary.
I’m not willing to agree with the President’s assessment that flights are safe because some pilots are armed, because the government concedes there aren’t significant threats that would be carried out otherwise. However armed pilots could be a second best in a world with an incompetent TSA.
(HT: Joe Cortez)