Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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In the early days of aviation, pilots whose planes carried the U.S. mail were required to carry sidearms to defend themselves and their aircraft. Needless to say, the screening process for pilots was far less rigorous in those days -- yet pilots going off the deep end and running amok with their pistols was virtually unheard of.

Don Worley, who flew for the now-defunct Bonanza Airlines in the 1960s, told the Wall Street Journal in 2001 that his airline trained its pilots to carry .38-caliber pistols beginning in 1965, after a man shot and killed a pilot and co-pilot on another airline, causing the plane to crash, killing 44.

The training was initially conducted here in Las Vegas, Mr. Worley recalled, but the program ended when more hoplophobic countries decided they would allow planes to land only if they were controlled by murderous armed hijackers -- not by peacefully armed pilots.

Today, considerable psychiatric screening takes place before anyone is allowed to take the pilot’s seat of a commercial aircraft (unless, of course, he’s armed with a box-cutter.) After all, if a pilot wished to do in him or herself -- and everyone aboard, at the same time -- no firearm would be needed; they could merely steer the aircraft into a mountain.

Yet many American pilots today refuse to go through the onerous, inconvenient, and expensive process set up by the gun-hostile Transportation Security Administration to “deputize” them to carry firearms -- quite properly asking why they need to go through additional levels of psychiatric testing (running the risk of being “flunked” by anti-gun screeners and therefore grounded), when they’ve already proven they’re psychiatrically fit enough to take responsibility for the lives of hundreds of passengers, in the first place.

The TSA has opposed “allowing” pilots -- many of them military veterans -- to carry firearms from the start. (The earlier rule which allowed armed pilots was inexplicably rescinded two months before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, assuring the Arab hijackers they would face no armed opposition in American skies.)

And that hostility may help explain why a mere 4,000 to 4,500 pilots (out of a work force of 95,000) have been trained and deputized to carry guns since the Federal Flight Deck Officer program began in April 2003.

Why require that the pilots be “deputized”? Why, to maintain the official federal myth that it’s not “safe” to allow anyone but a government police officer to carry a firearm to defend himself or others -- despite the clear stipulations of the founders that an armed citizenry is “necessary to the security of a free state.”

And so pilots today are required to take time off without pay, and travel to a hard-to-reach training camp in rural New Mexico, in addition to facing restrictions on how and where they may carry their firearms which are more onerous than those which apply to federal chicken inspectors (who can carry firearms on planes where they are merely passengers, providing they merely inform the flight crew.)

David Mackett, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, a group formed to lobby for guns in the cockpit, said tens of thousands of his colleagues are interested in the program, but that he and many others haven’t signed up because of the way it’s run.

Mr. Mackett says it can take from two months to a year to get a gun from the time an online application is submitted, and that some pilots never even hear back from the TSA.

Another pilots’ group, the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, recently gave the TSA a “D” for the guns-in-the-cockpit program as part of its annual “Aviation Security Report Card.”

Both pilot groups object to the requirement that pilots carry their government-issue semiautomatic pistols in a lockbox when they’re not in the cockpit and to store it in the cargo hold when they’re traveling but not flying the plane.

No one even seems to be asking why pilots can’t carry the personal gun they’re most comfortable with. Nevada requires concealed handgun permit holders to qualify not with just any gun, but with the specific weapons they’re going to carry. Air marshals are not issued some random “government gun” just before they board a plane. Realizing that each weapon handles differently (and that you can’t be sure a weapon that’s been out of your custody hasn’t been disabled, or even unloaded), marshals carry the individual weapon they’re familiar with, on and off the plane.

Coalition president Jon Safle says that forcing pilots to give up their guns is “just not a smart thing to do,” and that it exposes the weapons to loss or theft.

Last year, Congress failed to pass a bill that would speed the application and training process, allow pilots to carry guns in holsters, and let those among them with military or law enforcement backgrounds carry guns immediately.

Mr. Mackett says the pilots will try again this year. Good. Congressional delegations from the free(r) states of the West should support this common-sense reform wholeheartedly.

Or are we waiting to see what another gang of men with box-cutters can do to our unarmed flight crews and passengers, the next time?

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