What about safe guns in the cockpit?

Anyone familiar with the latest technology knows that there are many high-tech guns that are designed to be fired only by their owners. AFAIK, I’ve never seen a journalist or politician address this. Why wouldn’t these type of guns be the kind that trained pilots should be allowed to possess? Wouldn’t the pros far out weigh the cons?


The pros being what? To defend against an assault on the cockpit? That seems to me to be a case of closing the barn door after the horse is long gone. Defending against the type of air-plane hijacking seen on September the 11th? Any similarly well-planned terrorist attack will undoubtably be a different type, something never before seen. It would now be impossible for a group of men to hold an entire airplane hostage, or hold the cockpit against a group of passengers, so defending against such an attack is useless.

The cons:

First, the accidental deaths of perpetrators of “air rage” seems foremost in my mind. There have been many well known incidents of passengers having caused disturbances serious enough to be locked in plastic handcuffs and arrested upon landing. If I pilot has the ability, training, and willingness to shoot a threat to his passengers security, he will undoubtedly do so in situations where deadly force is not warrented. Second, the ability of a bullet to puncture the air-frame of a plane.

To John Zahn - please provide a cite for said guns; I’m not aware of any that work as you claim and AFAIK they’re actually fantasy. The ‘smart guns’ I’m aware of have serious drawbacks for actual use, such as having a lock in the handle with the key on a ring worn on the strong hand (which requires that the gun be held in a particular manner, sometimes take a bit of fiddling to get right and can’t be switched to the off hand if the primary is wounded, none of which are good in a life or death situation with adrenaline flowing) or are a similar sort of keyed system with other limitations. I’m not aware of any biometric ‘smart guns’, so any of the systems that could be used would still be vulnerable to the terrorist taking the gun (which, presumably, is why you’d want a ‘smart gun’) since the key device can be removed from the pilot if he’s incapacitated without much more difficulty than removing the gun.

grim spectre - The purpose of arming the pilot would be to defend against an assault on the cockpit, which is required for any hijacking scheme to work. While I don’t expect terrorists to try the same trick again, I also think there’s a point in closing the barn door before your other horses are gone.

I’d have to say that your ‘air rage’ argument doesn’t really work. Armed federal marshalls (with the ability, training, and willingness to shoot a threat to the plane’s security) are already present on planes, and I’m not aware of any shootings by them. Either the pilot will be considered like a police officer (in which case his likeliness to simply shoot a rambunctious passenger would be comprable to that of police), or like a private citizen with a carry permit (in which case the odds are less). I’m simply not aware of anything showing that airline pilots are more likely to shoot people unjustifiably than, say, Sky Marshalls would be.

And so what if a bullet penetrates the air frame? A modern airliner isn’t going to lose significant cabin pressure even from a dozen bullet holes, despite what you may have seen in the movies. And, of course, they can always use frangible round like Glaser Safety slugs to reduce the risk of penetrating the airframe anyway.

If we’re worried primarily about assaults on the cockpit, hasn’t that already been addressed? Many airlines now have additional ‘armour’ on the cockpit door and keep it locked at all times. Witness the story earlier this week when a man suffering a panic attack (or narcotic withdrawal, depending on what you read) attempted to break into the cockpit of a plane from South Africa to the UK. He couldn’t get in; the door was locked.

Beyond that, I would be worried about having armed and relatively untrained gun users on the aircraft. I’m sure the flight crew would receive training, but would it be enough to use a firearm effectively in a hijack situation without injuring or killing other passengers or damaging the aircraft?

But even so, Crusoe, that may not stop a determined assault. Also, armoring the door only works if the door is locked! And as is, it will be unlocked or open for most of the flight. The crew needs to piss and drink like the rest of us. This might be overcome with cameras and such, but only time will tell. I do agree with the idea of armoring the cockpit.

Damaging the aircraft isn’t an issue, as bullets can be easily made that will not puncture the skin of the aircraft. It could cause problems if the perversionof the inanimate takes over and it just “happens” to hit the one critical wire, etc. etc.

But this is astronomically unlikely.

A greater danger is passenger safety, but the design of most commercial aircraft means there is no direct firing line that would endanger them. Unless the pilot left the cockpit with the gun. Which is royally stupid, and would be trained out. (“You are bloody damn well NOT action heroes!”)

And there most definitely are smart guns that cannot be fired by anyone but their user. The simplest way is to wear a ring or minor bracelet which is actually a micro transmitter. Even a button on the sleeve could be used, or perhaps a hidden transmitter in the cuff. I’m not sure if James Bond-like palm readers have been built into guns yet, but I know for a fact that such things are in research. The former has been rolled out to a few Police departments looking to increase the safety factor; thugs can’t use the gun to fire on the officer unless they are at extreme close range. The gun would have to be no more than one foot away from the officer’s hand.

heres a few good cites:



Though the technology is still in somewhat early forms, it can onyl get better as we get more skill at making them. Why not now?


This link may not last long, but the House passed the bill to arm the pilots.


Frangible ammunition.

Last but not least:


A bit extreme, but it does show some of the sillyness that *some who are against arming have said. There are good arguments against it, but life, as always, is a compromise.

Well, I wrote one sentence stating: …that there are many high-tech guns that are designed to be fired only by their owners.

The guns which use fingerprints would indicate to me that only the owner could fire it. Same is true for the voice recognition models. There are some that simply have a combination, and if the owner only has the combination to it, that would indicate to me that it was designed to be fired by the owner only. So why is this a fantasy? I realize many of the new high-tech guns have some serious flaws in them. One only needs to type in a google search engine and find 239,000 documents, with many of those being negative. But many also realize the science is there and will only improve as time goes on for those that really want guns like these.


A couple of points:

First, I’m not real confident in any of the planned “only the owner can fire the gun” technologies. Say the battery in the gun’s fingerprint scanner runs down. Say the software crashes. Say the scanning pad is too dirty to get a good reading. All of these things at the very least cost time, and lost time can easily cost lives in a situation where you need to use a gun. The fewer things there are to go wrong, the better off you’ll be when you rely on the gun to perform for you.

Second, the “there are many high-tech guns that are designed to be fired only by their owners” statement is inaccurate; there are technologies planned and in development, but as far as I know, none have reached the “production” stage.

Finally, reinforced cockpit doors do indeed make it harder to gain brute-force access to the cockpit. So, suppose the terrorists decide, “We’ll just start killing passengers over the intercom until the pilot unlocks the door.” What do you suggest the crew do then? Families of passengers with knives at their throats will not support a “we have to let you die, opening the door is against company policy” rule. Reinforcing cockpits is a good idea, but it shouldn’t be the only line of defense.

Back to your regularly scheduled debate.

I don’t want to echo the “bullets kill people” punchline, but guns on airplanes precipitates ammunition on airplanes.

Ammunition is explosive by its nature.

I, for one, would prefer not to be on an airplane that carried any more explosives than were absolutely necessary for the trip.

This is silliness. The only reason a knife was an effective hijacking tool was the “co-operate with hostage-takers no matter what” mindset that’s drilled into people. That mindset no longer exists. It would be impossible for a lightly armed small group of people to secure any part of an airplane, with or without hostages, against a much larger group; that is, a group of passengers. A group of passengers is defense enough against the type of attack seen on September 11th. No more defense is necessary.

smiling bandit, as to your hypothetical “determined assault”: I cannot imagine a situation in which such an assault on a cockpit would be allowed to occur by the passengers of an airplane. Can you present one?

I find it ludicrous to suggest that we can trust pilots with several hundred lives and a huge airliner, but they will suddenly become drooling morons when it comes to handling firearms. If we are prepared to shoot the entire aircraft down with F16 fighter aircraft in the event of a hijacking, it would seem more than reasonable to allow the passengers and crew some measure of self defense before we resort to such drastic measures.

I, for one, would have much rather woken up on 11 September and read "19 hijackers gruesomely killed on 4 separate flights; Muslims worldwide outraged; President laughs and says “Too Fucking Bad, they had it coming.”

As much as I hate to keep harping on one point over and over and over again, passengers and crew have a very important measure of self defense now they didn’t have pre-September 11th. That is, any self defense at all. I know I personally was told, as I’m sure others were (Bank tellers, for example), that if I was taken hostage or robbed, to co-operate fully with the hostagetakers, and allow the “proper authorities” to handle the problem. The advice is entirely different now. 19 people spread out over four planes will never, ever, ever, be able to successfully hijack a single one of those planes in the same way as they did on September 11th. Hell, on Semptember 11th a small group of men couldn’t hijack a plane in the same manner the 3 other planes could on September 11th, simply because of the actions of the passengers.

There is no point to arming the pilots.

“There is no point to arming the pilots”

We don’t know that, and the pilots want to be armed. That’s enough for me, and apparently everyone else in the country except Norm Mineta.

First, Knead, ammunition, a cartridge, is NOT “explosive”. Please look up the differences between “propellants” and “explosives” then return to your seat. While looking, please note that blackpowder is an entirely different animal from modern gunpowders.

A round of handgun ammo has perhaps eight to ten grains of propellant- at 400 grains to the ounce, your typical BIC lighter has many times the potential destructive force.

To worry about handgun ammo because it’s “explosive” is ludicrous at best.

Second, while great strides are indeed being made in the issue of so-called “smart” gun technology, Colt, for example, has yet to build a functional prototype in which the electronics actually survive the recoil of firing the gun.

Personally, I’m not going to trust an electronic firearm until I can keep my PC from crashing every two days.

And on that note, considering that entirely too many police officers are shot with their own weapons every year, I don’t see a large contingent of officers themselves lining up for “smart” guns.

Why? Because they know they can’t trust them.

A gun is a tool to be used in situations of dire need, literally of life and death. For a police officer, soldier or private citizen, if one needs that gun to go off (to save the life of a victim, to prevent injury to oneself, stop a rape, stop a hijacking, you name it) then it damned well better go off.

And worse, it has to go off NOW. Not in 1.25 seconds after the fingerprint sensor detects a valid print, or after the “smart ring” detector has determined the encoded signal is the correct one.

There’s a “smart holster” in development. It works by reading a fingerprint of the wearer. Why isn’t it out? When the detector actually works (the article I read put it at about 85%) it takes just under two seconds to read, process and release the gun.

Which nearly triples the time it takes an officer to draw and fire.

Anyway, I’m with Tedster on this one. If I can trust the pilot to actually get me in the air and back down safely, why, again, would I not trust him or her with a handgun?

For that matter, the anti-armed-pilot types seem to have this mental image of a line of pilots all heading off for their planes, and some attendant standing there handing out guns saying “here’s your complimentary pistol, Captain. Have a nice flight.”

The fact is, only those pilots who wish to actually carry AND pass the regulations and training, will carry. No one is forcing a reluctant pilot to strap on a gat.

A police officer is a human being, a member of one’s local ton or city, who by desire and training is allowed to carry a gun, and if the need arises, shoot another human being.

An airline pilot, last I checked, is also a human being and lives in a town or city somewhere. By desire and training he’s entrusted with up to 400 lives at a time, in a fifty-million-dollar aircraft, two or three times a day.

Is there some reason the person in the first example is somehow more trustworthy, sane or reliable then the one in the second example?

I stand corrected and saddened … because I’ve been on the receiving end of more civil corrections in the Pit.

Doc, you and Tedster have stated that there is no reason that, given the trust placed in a pilot’s skill with an airplane, there is no reason why we shouldn’t trust them with a gun. Ignoring the fallacies inherent in that argument, the absence of a reason not to arm pilots is by no means an argument for arming pilots. Can you produce a reason for doing so, other than “The pilots want to”?

Easy, Grim.

When you’re on the ground and some nefarious situation occurs, you typically call for a police officer, a person both armed and trained to handle various nefarious situations.

In the sky, you do not have that option.

As has been mentioned- and conveniently ignored- there are roughly 1,000 skymarshals to cover the 30,000 daily US flights. However, no flight takes off without a pilot. And usually co-pilot.

Even if only a quarter of them are armed, that’s about seven times more “coverage” than the marshals alone. Knowing a pilot on a certain flight is armed can also free up a marshal to cover a flight with a non-carrying pilot.

And this is somehow a bad thing?

If a nefarious situation arises on a flight, personally I want somebody to be able to deal with it. If it’s a beligerent drunk angry he can’t smoke on the flight, the flight attendants can- and has, and will- take care of it. If it’s a wanna-be terrorist trying to detonate his shoes, the flight attendants can-and did- take care of him too.

But if it’s some madman with a blade determined to get into the cockpit and doesn’t care who he has to chop down to do it, I know I’d feel a lot better if that pilot had some means of defense other than perhaps a nice hot cup of coffee.

And in my previous example, as a direct retort to your question, why would an armed pilot be the least bit less trustworthy than the armed police officer on the ground?

Uh huh. Unless the plane has, say, 20 people on it instead of a full load, or is loaded with elderly people returning from an AARP convention or something. Since you mention September 11th, you do realize that the one “successful” instance of a group of passengers taking on the hijackers on that day resulted in the deaths of everyone on the plane, do you not?

Ideally, you want to minimize the loss of life in a hijacking situation. Advocating that unarmed passengers rush an armed hijacker doesn’t seem like the most realistic way to accomplish that.

I agree, and wouldn’t have any problem trusting a pilot who goes through years of training, not to mention a lifetime of background checks, and would feel comfortable enough of them handling a firearm.

What I sure the hell don’t trust, but is the system today, is letting these poorly trained, minimum-wagers, with little or no education, who often get through the two-bit background checks to get the job-- but yet these are the ones we rely on who still check the bags and items on person for weapons. Many of those wouldn’t give a damn if they lost their job tomorrow for any kind of a reason.


It’s somewhat irritating to have two threads on basically the same subject, eh? :frowning:

Although I’m repeating myself, I posit that hijacking a 20 passenger plane is unnecessarily risky compared to blowing up a 50 passenger bus. Considering the willingness of the government to shoot down planes rather than allow them to be used as missiles, why go through the added security and danger of hijacking a plane, as opposed to a bus? Wouldn’t you imagine that a group of 5 or 6 young arab men in a plane filled with elderly conventioners would set off a few bells?

I’m actually glad you brought that up, seeing as how it proves my point regarding the difference between a passive and active group of passengers. You start your criticism of my opinion by assuming hijackers in the cockpit. How would hijackers gain access to the cockpit in the first place, given resistence by a force many times their own size?