Wednesday, March 26, 2008

...Only Pilots Will Have Guns

A far-flung correspondent sends a link to the following report:

    McClatchy Washington Bureau

    Posted on Wed, Mar. 26, 2008

    US Airways pilot's gun went off as he was stowing weapon

    Jefferson George and Lisa Zagaroli | Charlotte Observer

    last updated: March 26, 2008 11:52:32 AM

    According to a report by Charlotte airport police, a bullet that passed through the fuselage of US Airways Flight 1536 from Denver on Saturday was fired by the aircraft's captain as he “was stowing his weapon.” The captain was carrying a 13-shot Heckler & Koch USP .40-caliber pistol as part of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program run by the federal Transportation Security Administration.

    That program has very detailed procedures for handling and transporting firearms, said Richard Bloom, a professor who teaches aviation security at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Although he didn’t know the details of Saturday’s incident, Bloom said there are a few possible explanations for gun being fired accidentally: impairment by alcohol, drugs or medication, some kind of distraction, or “somebody was just messing around.” “There’s extremely little room for misunderstanding,” he said. “The procedures and so clear and so specifically described.”

    TSA officials and US Airways continued to withhold the pilot’s name Tuesday, citing the investigation. The airline has grounded the pilot without pay. The aircraft remained out of service. The bullet, the police report revealed, penetrated the left side of the cockpit and went through the A319's fuselage. Air safety experts said most planes can withstand such a breach and continue flying normally.

    Read the full story at

Of course, David Letterman had some fun with it last night:

Top Ten U.S. Airways Excuses

Thought it would be fun to shoot empty liquor bottles

Air traffic controller's "Clear to land" misheard as "Squeeze off a round"

Media never reports when plane takes off and pilot's gun doesn't go off

Pilot thought he saw one of them "Cloverfield" Godzillas -- Buy "Cloverfield" on DVD April 22nd

Oh, like you've never fired a weapon onboard a passenger plane before

Don't worry -- His parole officer was in the cockpit

Chillax, bro

This is what happens when you let Dick Cheney fly a plane -- Did you see it coming folks?

If you didn't want gunplay, maybe you should have flown United

Pilot distraught after picking Duke to win it all

Well, fun's fun and all, but it occurs to me that this episode points to an issue that those who favor allowing students, faculty, and everybody else to carry concealed weapons on college campuses has conveniently overlooked: Accidents happen.

Take a look at the McClatchy report again: The pilot was packing heat "as part of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program run by the federal Transportation Security Administration"...that is, it was okay for him to have the weapon on board with him. Luckily no one was injured, or worse. But I can't help but think the scenario might be different if, say, a firearm "goes off" in a college classroom, or dormitory, or cafeteria. For one thing, there are more people there than in an airplane cockpit, so it seems to me that the chance of injury or death is that much greater. Moreover, if--as proponents of armed campuses seem to hope--many if not most if not all of the other denizens of the classroom/dorm/cafeteria are also carrying, are not the odds pretty good that some if not many if not most of them, upon hearing a gunshot (and perhaps witnessing the collapse of an injured person), will draw and start returning fire?

Since, after all, that is the point of allowing them to carry weapons, no? To shoot back at some deranged someone who opens fire? Well, what if the someone is not deranged, but rather careless or clumsy?

The other problem, overlooked by those who favor totin' guns, is that it's difficult to tell by looking who the badguys are. The idea seems to be that we can tell the badguy because he's armed. But if we're all armed...well, since no one is in uniform, how are we to know whom to shoot? Seems to me that, rather than averting tragedies on campus, arming college communities is invited more, and more frequent, tragedy.

Meanwhile, I would be in favor of revisiting that Federal Flight Deck Officer program, too. It's good to know that "most planes can withstand such a breach [a bullet piercing the fuselage] and continue flying normally"...but human beings are somewhat less resilient where bullets are concerned, and the next time it might not just be metal that's in the way.

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