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Feeling safe? Armed pilot discharges pistol in cockpit

After 9/11, there was a debate over whether pilots should be trained in small firearms and permitted (or required) to carry a pistol in the cockpit. From the get-go, I objected. I felt that the risks of firearms exceeded their benefit, especially if the Federal Air Marshals program already had armed law enforcement officers on board.

The risk of an accidental discharge, or worse, a pilot with less-than-honorable purposes, makes guns in the cockpit a substantial risk. And now it’s happened: A US Airways pilot discharged his weapon during approach to Charlotte.

What on earth was the pilot doing with his pistol during the approach? Shouldn’t he have been working on landing the plane? And why wasn’t his weapon holstered, with the safety on? What were they doing up there, talking about their favorite (and still, to this day, most disturbing) scenes in Christopher Walken movies?

The whole thing makes me feel less safe. Both because I don’t like the idea of hot lead flying through the fuselage, and because I like my pilots to be flying, not playing with guns.

The pro-gun argument has always been that armed pilots serve as the last line of defense in the case of a hijacking or other incident. Or that armed pilots are themselves a deterrent to hijackers.

But it’s impossible to prove whether or not the arming of pilots actually improves safety by scaring potential bad guys from trying anything on board a plane. You can’t prove or disprove that proposition, unless you’ve got an al Qaeda focus group that you’re running.

A more concrete case that would support the pro-arming side would be incidents of threats who were subdued by an armed pilot. I haven’t heard of a single incident wherein a pilot was called upon to unholster his or her weapon in flight. If readers have a link to such a case, please send it my way.

As it is, the passengers on this plane were lucky that nothing worse happened. Arming pilots remains a bad idea.

(Thanks to David, Kim, and Richard for sending this one in!)

Here’s a photo of the gunshot hole, via the Associated Press: