Friday, Sept. 28, 2001

Armed Citizens the Best Defense Against Terrorists

Ordinary responsible Americans need to be armed, just as Israelis are, in the war against terrorism, writes author/researcher John R. Lott Jr., who says that's the only adequate response to the terrorist threat Americans now face.

Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, Lott notes the security problems the nation faces and insists that no matter how tight restrictions are, and no matter how many air marshals ride planes, nothing beats having an armed citizenry in the fight against terrorism.

Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2000), itemizes the flaws in most of the security measures now in effect or being considered:

         Screening at airports, while important, will always be inadequate, he writes, noting that terrorists can always find some way around the controls, such as bribing airport employees.

         Strengthening cockpit doors, he says, is probably a good idea, "but given current airline design it may create dangerous differences in air pressure between the cockpit and cabin. In any case, the door must be opened sometime, to allow pilots to go to the bathroom or get food."

         The marshals program is more promising. He cites research by Bill Landes at the University of Chicago that showed that between a third and a half of the drop in airplane hijackings during the 1970s were the probable result of having armed U.S. marshals on planes as well as law enforcement's increased ability to catch and punish hijackers.

         Putting merely one air marshal aboard every daily flight in the U.S. would require an army of at least 35,000 officers - a far greater number than total of all those who now work for the FBI, Secret Service and the U.S. Marshal Service combined (17,000). Moreover, he adds, one marshal might not be enough to foil a whole gang of hijackers of the kind used by Osama bin Laden. Clearly, he says, it will take a long time to deploy enough marshals.

In response to these and other problems, Lott suggests that the 600,000 active state and local law enforcement officers in the U.S. today who are currently forbidden to bring their guns on airplanes should not only be allowed to board planes but even be given discount fares if they fly with their guns. Moreover, since most pilots have also had military experience, they should be armed, as their union and's Chris Ruddy have demanded, exactly as Israel's El Al has been doing all along.

Lott dismisses fears of having guns aboard planes, explaining that the special high-velocity handgun ammunition used on planes packs quite a wallop but is designed not to penetrate the aluminum skin of the plane. Even with regular bullets, he notes, the worst-case outcome would simply be to force the plane to fly at a lower altitude, where the air pressure is higher.

But using guns to stop terrorists shouldn't be limited to airplanes, he insists. "We should encourage off-duty police, and responsible citizens, to carry guns in most public places, because cops can't be everywhere."

In Israel, for example, Lott explains that about 10 percent of Jewish adults have permits to carry concealed handguns. Just to match that rate of permit holding, Americans would have to increase the number of permits from 3.5 million to almost 21 million, he writes.

"Thirty-three states currently have 'right-to-carry' laws, which allow the law-abiding to obtain a permit if they are above a certain age and pay a fee. Half of these states require some training. We should encourage more states to pass such laws, and possibly even subsidize firearms training," Lott maintains.

He concludes by noting that the states that do pass concealed handgun laws "experience drops in violent crimes, especially in multiple-victim shootings - the type of attack most associated with terrorism.

"Bill Landes and I found that deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings fell by 80 percent after states passed right-to-carry laws."

Read more on this subject in related Hot Topics:
Guns/Gun Control
War on Terrorism



"When the way comes to an end, then change - having changed, you pass through."


      I. Ching


 Bruce "Doc". Melson