Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Arming Pilots - Another View

Warning: No happy fun content here. I'm putting on my wonk hat for this article. The hilarity will resume shortly.

There has been much discussion in the blogosphere recently over the issue of arming pilots. Not surprisingly, the majority view is that pilots should have the option of carrying a gun if they wish.

I'm not opposed to this in principle, but it disturbs me that this issue seems to have hijacked the discussion of airline safety in general. It seems that the only two issues available for debate are locking cockpit doors and arming pilots. That's a mistake, because neither are particularly good solutions.

Arming pilots may be a reasonable idea, but I have serious doubts about its effectiveness. Learning to use a handgun effectively in a crowded cabin under chaotic circumstances is very difficult. One only needs to look at the stringent training requirements for air marshals to get a sense of the difficulty involved. And even then, air marshals rely heavily on being undercover and having the element of surprise. In the hands of an untrained person, a gun is counter-productive.

Handguns are of limited use against multiple fanatical assailants at close range. If the hijackers are willing to sacrifice one of their members in an assault against a marginally trained person with a handgun, I give them a high percentage chance of getting the gun. Now they have an extra weapon.

So if pilots are going to be armed, I want them well trained. Perhaps not as well as an air marshal, but certainly a multiple-day training course would be a minimum requirement, along with certain standards for passing. That means it has to be optional or pilots will protest. And that also probably means that very few pilots will sign up in the first place.

Even then, there is no guarantee of stopping the hijacking. It takes a perfect shot to stop an assailant with one bullet fired from a handgun. There have been cases where a police officer has shot a charging maniac four, five, or six times, and had the assailant keep on coming.

Locked cockpit doors are also a weak deterrent. As long as pilots have to go to the bathroom, and as long as they are responsible for the safety of the flight, they need access to the cabin. That means terrorists can get to them. All a terrorist has to do is start a lavatory fire, and the cockpit door will open. There are other ways to trick the pilots into coming out by setting off cockpit indicators.

Towards A Systemic Solution

We need to build on the example of Flight 93. Not just in the air, but in society in general. How do you defend a free society? If we accept that our freedom is one of our greatest strengths, why do all of the proposed solutions involve central authorities and top-down control?

We need to think outside the box. For example, instead of trying to prevent cutting implements from getting on board an aircraft (an impossible task), why not put a locker on each plane, which contains equipment for defending against a knife-wielding attacker? Long armored gloves, wire-mesh vests, and a nightstick are excellent tools for subduing someone with a knife, even in the hands of the untrained, and yet they pose no risk to the aircraft because they are not offensive weapons.

Flight attendants and pilots could attend training courses in the use of this equipment. Then you can move your security focus in the airport to preventing firearms and explosives from getting on board, which is a more manageable problem.

How about programs for civilian defensive training? We already single out able-bodied people to man emergency exits on planes. We have Red-Cross training programs in first aid. How about a 'airplane proctor' certificate and training program that any citizen who passes a minimal security clearance can take, which would train him or her in the use of the defensive gear on the plane, some simple hand-to-hand combat skills, and training in things like emergency egress from airplanes, how to find the communication radio in a cockpit and use it to alert the ground in case the pilots are incapacitated, etc. Persons who present their certification cards could be seated in strategic locations (near the cockpit, for example), and could be shown the location of the defensive equipment locker. They would even be an asset on regular flights because of their additional first-aid and emergency egress training.

Terrorists look for soft targets. An airplane with an unknown number of people who are willing to come to the defense of the aircraft and who are even marginally trained in how to do it complicates the hijacker's planning and lowers their chance of success. Lower it enough, and they will look for other targets.

If the strength of our society is our freedom, we should be looking at ways to make it work for us in the defense of the country, rather than replacing it with central authorities and restrictions on liberty. The way to defend a free society is to allow citizens to turn themselves into hard targets. More concealed carry permits, more training programs for citizens, more decentralization of emergency services and critical infrastructure.

There are too many targets for a central security apparatus to protect, and all the terrorists need to find is the weakest link. You can't win that game. By giving the citizens the tools they need to defend themselves and the training and guidance to show them how to do it, you make every target a little bit 'harder'.

Critical installations still need to be protected by the government, but the rest is our responsibility, and our duty. Our strength is our freedom - we should build on that instead of restricting it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Happy Fun Pundit Constitutional Analysis

Here at Happy Fun Pundit, we were very much swayed by Gary Wills' analysis of the constitution based on Latin word derivations. We still anxiously await interpretations of the second amendment based on Swahili, which would allow you to keep and bear large fish.

This latest round of constitutional innovation has left us with the urge to re-consider other amendments. So bear with me, while I describe my interpretation of the first four amendments:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment clearly says that Congress will not prevent the establishment of religion, or the free exercise of the establishment of religion. But what about when it's already established? The constitution is mute on this point. The way I read this, anyone can exercise their right to establish a religion, but once you do the government can bulldoze your churches. Clearly, the constitution seeks to limit the practice of religion, or they wouldn't have singled out the 'establishment' of religion.

I also notice that the Constitution seems to think that the Press is something other than speech. This would make sense if they ever tried to read an Op-Ed by Michael Moore.

Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Note that this amendment only prohibits the government from quartering soldiers in your house. What about non-soldiers? Clearly, this should be read as allowing the forced quartering of anyone other than soldiers. If the government wanted it to apply to all persons, they wouldn't have specified only 'soldiers' in the amendment.

But I'll tell you what - I am NOT letting Underperformin' Norman Mineta sleep in my guest bedroom. You'll get my rollaway cot when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Location: Happy Fun Pundit's Place
Description of Items to be seized: Happy Fun Pundit's Stuff
Probable Cause: Happy Fun Pundit has that 'look' about him.
Affirmation: I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggawnit, people like me.