For Release: Wednesday, July 10, 2002
WASHINGTON, DC – The Violence Policy Center (VPC) released the following statement today by Legislative Director Kristen Rand, in opposition to Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act (H.R. 4635).
The VPC is in strong opposition to guns of any kind in the cockpits of our nation’s passenger planes. Introducing guns to the close quarters of an airliner may be even more hazardous than putting guns in classrooms, as some urged following the 1999 Columbine massacre.
The first and foremost consideration should be the fact that the weapon, by definition, would potentially be available to every passenger. That includes passengers with a case of air rage or those suffering from suicidal tendencies, as well as terrorists.
Moreover, those contemplating terrorism will know that a gun is available and will act accordingly and the terrorists will usually have the element of surprise on their side.
Giving the task of defending the airliner to an already engaged pilot is a scenario rife with potentially disastrous consequences. In fact, highly trained police officers, whose only job is law enforcement, all too often have their service weapons turned against them by suspects:
- One study found that 21 percent of officers killed with a handgun were shot with their own service weapon.
- Trained law enforcement officials have only a 18 to 22 percent hit ratio in armed confrontations. The cramped quarters of a cockpit do not lend themselves to success.
Experience also teaches that when police fire their weapons, they sometimes make grave mistakes in deciding when deadly force is justified. It is naive to believe that pilots will perform any better, especially when they will have the additional responsibility of flying the plane while fending off an attack.
Recognizing the simple danger of loaded handguns at 30,000 feet, another serious threat is unintentional discharge. Many handguns, including popular models used by police departments, can fire when dropped or bumped.
One brand of handgun carried by police departments nationwide is prone to fire with very light pressure on the trigger. The dangers of “drop fires,” or guns with hair triggers going off unintentionally in an airplane cabin’s close quarters are crystal clear. One errant bullet could damage key flight controls, kill or injure a fellow pilot or other flight crew member, or potentially pierce the hull of the jetliner.
There are many necessary and constructive steps that can be taken to protect pilots and passengers short of arming pilots. If firearms are absolutely necessary, they should be carried by trained air marshals whose only responsibility is protecting the safety of crew members and passengers.
Whether it occurs in a classroom or a cockpit, pinning our hopes on the outcome of a shoot-out is risky at best. Measures aimed at preventing attacks must be the focus lest we risk replicating in the air the gun violence America already experiences on the ground.