President Trump: Guns in the Cockpit Make Everyone Safer

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.

What I don’t want are the same pilots who drink or who have mental illness to be carrying.

(HT: Joe Cortez)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You seem to be arguing against armed pilots but also mention a scattered few incidents of carelessness and how truly infrequent they are.
    Concealed carry on land is very common, and growing. I’m comfortable with that. And I’m comfortable with the thought of whoever is flying the plane I’m on to be armed as well.

  2. A friend who’s a former USAir captain told me that there were certain colleagues he would refuse to fly with if he knew they were packing heat. Just as in any group there are some hotheads and show offs amongst the great men & women who pilot the U.S. air fleet. He thought there were more than enough to make arming flight crews a bad idea.

  3. @AaronW do you remember 4U 9525 in 2015? Not sure that providing weapons to pilots or to anyone onboard a plane for that matter is the smartest idea in the world. or that a gun would have made a difference. You never know what state of mind someone may be in no matter how much training and/or psychological test he has done / passed. In the same way I think the suggestion of arming teachers is a total absurdity and abomination…. And btw I am a hunter, I love game hunting and I own a rifle, but I do believe in way stricter gun controls laws and that a lot of guns should be outlawed from public sales. I am certainly against regular citizens being able to carry concealed firearms. Jesus this is not the wild west anymore, we’re in the 21st century.

  4. Just so I understand the president’s argument, most people don’t know that the pilots are carrying, but it has prevented attacks, even though people don’t know they have them?
    I sure am glad that we don’t have any violence on board aircraft anymore because the pilots have guns. I sure wouldn’t want people punching flight attendants, fighting each other over potentially crying babies, pilots punching passengers on the the jetway, and people being beaten and dragged off flights.

  5. Well we shouldn’t be too surprised here that the president is misunderstanding something or pretending to misunderstand something here to give the tiny percentage of the population something they believe and that is all problems can be solved by adding guns to the equation.

  6. How about we just ban all guns altogether? The Second Amendment is outdated just like segregation was. The founding fathers weren’t saints, they were slave holders, racists, and definitely imperfect.

  7. @ray yeah, that’s what the German people said too in 1942…after it was too late to stop the tyrannical government.

    “Those who don’t study history are condemned to repeat it.”

  8. The instances of mishap may be rare (as compared to total flights) possibly rare as compared to total flights with armed pilots, but are certainly not rare as compared to armed actual pilot interventions in hijack situations.

  9. Ray above does not mean that he wants to go through the amendment process and repeal the Second Amendment. Instead, he means that he wants some judge with a halo on his head (although the left does not believe in halos) to be flexible about the meaning of the second amendment. For example, maybe the Judge might deem the “Militia” in the Second Amendment to really mean police force and the “right….to keep and bear Arms” to mean swords and NOT firearms. However, since swords are dangerous, regulate the acceptable sword length to be only nine inches or less (read knife). This virtue seeking Judge would comment, people can keep knives for now, unless more enlightened countries, such as England or Australia decide on more humane measures, like safety guards on knifes. To the left wing, such a solution would be problem solved.

    Afterwards, the Judge can start interpreting the First Amendment…..In other words, people like me, arguing for a literal interpretation of the Constitution, should be censored for divisive speech or something like that.

    But then, people like Ray that say: “The founding fathers weren’t saints, they were slave holders, racists, and definitely imperfect.” I don’t want to put words in Ray’s mouth, although I am a hypocrite, since I did so above. But people making this argument want to ignore the Constitution altogether and do what is right. Combine that with the “end justifies the means”……would create rule by the elites. Tyranny of the noble classes and/or dictators is the norm rather than the exception throughout history. To the contrary, I believe in self government. There is a lot to dislike about everything in the USA. However, I agree with Winston S. Churchill. “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” I also like the USA system of Constitutional democracy more than the parliamentary system, because it slows down a temporary coalition of elites from massive changing the structure of things.

  10. Why do pilots need guns? They are in a cockpit behind a reinforced door. Seems to me that pilots with guns make a flight less safe not more safe. There are certainly some pilots (very few but still) who aren’t fully mentally stable and you would want to be the last people to be armed on a plane.

  11. >Farnorthtrader says:
    >Just so I understand the president’s argument, most people don’t know that the pilots are carrying, but it has prevented attacks, even though people don’t know they have them?

    Most people aren’t terrorists. What matters in terms of terrorist attack is they know that the pilots might be armed. Getting into the cockpit is not a guaranteed way to wage successful jihad against Americans.

  12. It just seems to me, that every single “sensitive” location is protected by armed guards, and security. Courthouses, Police Stations, Ports, etc… As inept as the TSA is, and I absolutely hate the whole security theater that takes place. I imagine they do deter a great deal of people from “sneaking” in guns and other contraband. I have no problems with armed pilots.

    The gun debate to me seems silly. We live in a country with over 300 million guns, and an actual amendment making ownership of them a RIGHT.. Not a privilege. The debate shouldn’t be on attempts of removal, but of how to accept reality as it IS. If someone does sneak a gun on a plane, I’d prefer having an armed pilot and reinforced doors.

    Side note on Gun Bans: I own a 3D printer, and can make a working handgun NOW. While this is a far cry from a semi-automatic assault rifle… Talk to me in 10-15 years, and see what else can be made. (Also – I am NOT a Gun owner… nor do I wish to be)

  13. Trump is parroting the gun lobby’s sick argument that “good guys” must be armed to stop the “bad guys.” Taken to its logical conclusion, we should all be armed, everywhere, all the time. And that’s the NRA vision for America.

  14. @Mangar- many sensitive locations are not protected by armed guards. Mall entrances, theaters, museums, restaurants, offices- all have been subject to attack before, so all need armed guards if we are to extend this principal of “guarding what is valuable”. Where does it end, and isn’t it just simply easier to limit the weaponry?

    I agree- the gun debate is silly. We live in a country with over 300 million guns- we need to start reducing that quantity immediately. We also had an actual amendment that banned people from having a drink- we got rid of that when it was archaic. Time to do the same for the 2nd amendment.

    I hear what you say about 3D printers, and there are ad nauseam other arguments why banning guns won’t work (only bad guys will have guns, etc). But the simple fact is that it has worked, everywhere else that has implemented a gun ban. The magnitude of the problem is much greater in the US, so it will take longer to fix. But that is no reason why not to do it- more guns is not the solution to guns.

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