Would a gun on the planes have made a difference on 9/11?

With the upcoming anniversary of these horrific acts it might be a good idea to reconsider what we gun owners often say about how it otherwise would have happened if a gun owner was on the planes.

I don't think that armed citizens aboard the planes would have had any positive effect on the events of 9/11, with the exception of Flight 91. And even there they would not have made a great difference.

I have gone through this on a number of boards and the only thing I can say with great certainly is that there will be those who willingly and unethically takes my words out of context and uses them to bash me personally.

Honestly... I would prefer that not to happen here. If you (generic you) wish to skewer my thoughts and conclusions that is fine. But please don't do it either knee-jerk or by misrepresenting what I am saying or meaning. Or worse, by not even reading the essay but assuming that you already know everything that it says. You can see this reflected in some of the previous comments below the essay.

Okay... let's get it up and running...

I am going to approach this purely from a "tactical" decision making exercise. I am not going to let my emotions run away, or my desire to "do something" override the understanding that a well thought out plan (when time is available, which is was in the minds of the passengers on the planes) is better than helter-skelter rushing ahead.

There are also two propositions that I need to ask you to take as fact. I think they are fair to state as fact, and are central to my arguments.

  • 9/11 changed the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP). If any of us were on those planes we cannot view this event through post-9/11 eyes and wisdom. We can only view it through past experience prior to 9/11.
  • Survival is paramount. I am not going to win by dying for my country. I am certainly not going to win by forcing 200 other people to die for my desire to "do something." My goal the moment I realize what is happening is to not do something stupid that will hamper as many innocents as possible walking off the plane reasonably whole.

I know that at times, one must sacrifice one's life for the greater good, or even for that nebulous concept called "honor," but at this time and stage of the event that is not even a consideration. It is only the beginning of what would appear to be a very long and involved situation. There is plenty of time to sit back and look for the best and most productive time to act if necessary.

Any problems so far?

Back about 20 years ago the Reader's Digest ran a riveting true story about a off-duty cop out in the Colorado/Arizonaish area who stopped at his local library to attend a meeting. Like many off-duty cops he was carrying concealed.

Well, to cut the story short at that very same meeting was a disgruntled citizen who happened to have a number of dynamite sticks strapped to his body with a dead man's switch in his hand.

When Mr. Dynamite revealed himself and began terrorizing the crowd at the meeting can you imagine the position of the poor policeman? He had every ability to "take out the guy" but at what cost? Was the dynamite a bluff? Maybe. Was the switch a bluff? Maybe. But maybe not, also.

What would YOU do if you were Mr. Dynamite and some person threatened you with a gun? Surrender meekly? Perhaps. But probably not. Maybe you blow yourself and dozens of innocents to kingdom come.

Jumping to the end the good guys won and the bad guy lost by surrendering to the authorities. And the cop never fired his gun.

Keep this story in mind as I go on.

Pre-9/11 the SOP was predicated upon the realistic idea that people who hijacked planes had a reason and they needed the plane and the passengers to fulfill a credible threat in order to get their demands.

Virtually every hijacking to that point had ended with the plane somewhere on the ground. Yes, lives were sometimes lost, and often at the hands of the hijackers, but the plane WAS on the ground somewhere with the majority of the people walking away alive.

If you were an betting man, the odds were extremely in your favor that you would eventually walk away from the plane. Maybe you were going to be banged up, maybe humiliated, maybe thirsty and hungry, but you and 200 others were going to be alive.

And there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with an SOP that gives you and the other passengers the best odds that you're going to survive. Cooperate with the hijackers, don't give them a reason to do something stupid, and stay alive.

I can survive being banged up, humiliated, and thirsty and hungry. I would rather not have a 9mm shoved up my nose at 1200 fps if it is not going to accomplish anything significant. I would rather not be the cause of a bomb going off at 30,000 feet if it is not necessary.

So I'm sitting there on the plane, minding my own business when I become aware that the plane is being hijacked. I've got my trusty Glock with 17 rounds in it with me, and I pray that maybe some other passengers have the same equipment.

There appears to be five hijackers. They are saying over and over something about a "bomb on the plane." (as reported by the major media in the days immediately after the tragedy and based upon voice recordings from the planes.)

Let me review what I DO KNOW at that moment...

  • SOP says "do nothing" and your chance of survival is excellent (along with the other 200 people). I "don't know" for certain but past history has shown that these people have a cause that they are willing to negotiate for, such as getting someone released from prison. I DO KNOW, though, that these are people willing to die for their cause if they deem it necessary.
  • I am armed with a pistol. Pistols are not mankillers. Pistols are not one-shot stoppers. People sometimes take a long time to die even with two to the chest.
  • This is the beginning. These things are normally carried out over 48-72 hours, and even more. There is plenty of time to plan and execute.
  • One of me - five of them.
  • Bomb on board somewhere.
  • Radical Muslims are very willing and eager to blow themselves and innocents up if they feel it is necessary.

  • Let me review what I DON'T KNOW...
  • Bomb on board?
  • Dead man switch?
  • How many detonators?

And that is, in itself, enough to freeze me in my tracks.

Here are my options...

  • Stand up and shoot one hijacker, thereby probably getting the plane blown up.
  • Stand up and shoot two hijackers, thereby probably getting the plane blown up.
  • Stand up and shoot all five hijackers like some movie star, and still thereby probably getting the plane blown up.

Or...

  • There is absolutely nothing that I can do at this moment that makes any kind of proper tactical sense except sit there and stay the course. The same as the cop in the library. I sit and wait. And wait some more if necessary. And wait until circumstances either FORCE me to act, or have significantly shifted towards my success. But those circumstances have to be WORSE than a bomb going off in mid-air, dropping 200 innocents to the ground.

If it was just ME in the plane? If it was just the cop in the library? Yes, that would make a significant difference. But can I take that risk for 200 other people? Do I dare make an attempt when I KNOW that even if I don't it will probably come out okay in the long run, and that if I am wrong about it I have condemned 200 innocents to die because I can't keep my gun in my pants.

There's nothing wrong with the desire to "do something." But having the courage, the fortitude, the ability to "not do something" is just as important.

Who would have possibly guessed the final destination and outcome of those hijacked planes even seconds before it happened?

We can only act with the info that we have.

Today, we're in a different world. And my answer would be completely different.

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Comments 19 comments

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

Good analysis. I agree with your conclusion.

What probably would have made a difference would have been if the FBI had not dropped the ball on the information its field agents received about Middle Easteners taking flying lessons, especially the one who, as I recall, showed little interest in learning to land.


rivrsurfrr 8 years ago

Good analysis, but I disagree on a few points. The mindset prior to 911 was based on a fixed point hostage situation. Mobility adds elements that are not necessarily valid to a fixed location. The possibility of kamikaze attacks is a reality. The security policy was to disarm people of obvious weapons, and negotiate the return of the aircraft. Fighting back was not only discouraged, it was forbidden. When adding active self defense into the equation, you give yourself another option to stay alive. The scenario described above incorporates an explosive device. The rules of engagement for that are not the same as those for edged weapons. Remember, the 911 group used box cutters and utility knives. In that scenario, yes, active defense with a gun would have saved a lot of lives. Had an all encompassing and realistic security plan been in effect, the day would have turned out differently. Incidentally, the new rules REQUIRE resistance to any attempt to take over an aircraft. Most lives lost in prior attacks came in the takeover phase or when hostages were executed. If I was singled out for execution, I would have resisted any way I could. Sorry, but I'm not going to go "gently into that good night".


Gandy 8 years ago

Some validity to the analysis, but you could have saved a lot of words by just saying, "Most people are sheep". There are, however, sheepdogs among us, and some even carry firearms that are "mankillers" (though admittedly, the 9mm is not one of them).

I certainly would not have stood up immediately and played "John Wayne". But I would have taken every opportunity to assess the tactical situation and look for an opportunity to kill one or all of the bad guys. This doesn't take hours. It takes minutes. And when you act, it takes seconds. I certainly would have considered the fact that in prior hijackings, people had been arbitrarily shot. And I would have considered my own accuracy with a gun (considerably better than most cops). Triple-tap, triple-tap, triple-tap, triple-tap... oops, down to two bullets - double-tap.

And don't think that I haven't stood up against long odds before. I've been a minority of one against hundreds. But the funny thing is, when you're right, and you stand up alone, sometimes people don't think of it as one man standing up. Sometimes they think of it as one leader standing up, and sometimes they follow. And at 40-92 to 5, the hijackers would not have stood a chance.

Of course, time is an element. Flight 11 only had 30 minutes or so. Same with 175. But 77 and 93 had over an hour to work.


arthur 8 years ago

mmmm, wouldn't you consider watching a flight attendent be carved up by a thug with a boxcutter as "forcing you to act".


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 8 years ago from The Midwest Author

REV says:

The scenario described above incorporates an explosive device. The rules of engagement for that are not the same as those for edged weapons. Remember, the 911 group used box cutters and utility knives.

Jack replies:

The scenario describes it just the way the passengers would have known it. Change it if you will… but then you are discussing a fantasy, not the reality of the situation.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 8 years ago from The Midwest Author

Gandy says:

I certainly would not have stood up immediately and played "John Wayne". But I would have taken every opportunity to assess the tactical situation and look for an opportunity to kill one or all of the bad guys. This doesn't take hours. It takes minutes. And when you act, it takes seconds.

Jack replies:

As usual, completely ignoring the threat from the supposed bomb on board. Why do so many gun carriers seem to solely on their "gun" and nothing else?

Gandy says:

I certainly would have considered the fact that in prior hijackings, people had been arbitrarily shot. And I would have considered my own accuracy with a gun (considerably better than most cops). Triple-tap, triple-tap, triple-tap, triple-tap... oops, down to two bullets - double-tap.

Jack says:

Moving rapidly into "movieland fantasy" here, Good Readers.

Gandy says:

And don't think that I haven't stood up against long odds before. I've been a minority of one against hundreds. But the funny thing is, when you're right, and you stand up alone, sometimes people don't think of it as one man standing up. Sometimes they think of it as one leader standing up, and sometimes they follow. And at 40-92 to 5, the hijackers would not have stood a chance.

Of course, time is an element. Flight 11 only had 30 minutes or so. Same with 175. But 77 and 93 had over an hour to work.

Jack replies:

As usual, completely ignoring the threat from the supposed bomb on board. Why do so many gun carriers seem to solely on their "gun" and nothing else?


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 8 years ago from The Midwest Author

"mmmm, wouldn't you consider watching a flight attendent be carved up by a thug with a boxcutter as "forcing you to act"."

A heinous, barbaric act for sure. And one that would repulse any rational person. But if you speak with vets who have spent much time out on the pointy end of the stick many will tell you they witnessed similar or worse, and could do nothing about it because of tactical considerations and balancing them against the potential lose of life of many more than one person's.


BHirsh 4 years ago

One fact disabuses your whole rationale - the fact that a 'good' gun wasn't present condemned the 200 to certain death, along with the deaths of ten times that amount.

A gun present undeniably would have increase the odds of survival of the vast majority of those casualties.

Sorry. No sale.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 4 years ago from The Midwest Author

bhirsh makes no case for his idea... merely waves his hands and makes declarations while ignoring every single point in the essay. Not a good way to win the discussion or to persuade people to your side.


BHirsh 4 years ago

Jack, it is indisputable that taking no action leaves the odds 100% against survival.

It is also indisputable that having the ability to stop the attack at least raises the odds in favor of survival.

I need to make no more of a case than that.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 4 years ago from The Midwest Author

And you really think that shooting someone who is holding a detonator to a bomb that is going to the explode and bring the plane falling from 30,000 feet in the air "raises the odds in favor of survival".

If you want to make that case... go for it.

And there is no place in the essay that advised "taking no action." The advice was to wait until the events were more in your favor... not when you're going to bring the plane falling down from the air.

You and I NOW know that the time was measured in minutes... not 12 to 24 hours as normal. The people on board had no way of knowing that.

Until you can answer specifically how a gun on board is going to avoid blowing the plane out of the sky then you really don't have much of a way to persuade people how a gun would have been helpful.


David 4 years ago

Wrong question:

Because we presumably live in a society of freedoms, we should not deny anyone any freedom if doing so serves no purpose (and usually should not even if it does). So the question should not be "would having a law-abiding citizen with a gun on the plane have helped?", but rather "could it have made things worse?" Since there's absolutely no way the presence of a firearm could have made things any worse than what actually happened (everyone on the plane died along with thousands of people not on the plane) there's no justification of denying the freedom of bearing arms. Maybe it would have helped, maybe it wouldn't have, but it couldn't have hurt in this instance.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 4 years ago from The Midwest Author

And you know this NOW. On the plane, you would have had no clue.

Would you personally take a chance with a bomb knowing that you just might blow 100 innocent people out of the sky at 30,000 feet, or would you wait a few hours until the plane is safely on the ground to make a move?

Until you answer this question then all else is pointless.


BHirsh 4 years ago

Jack, give it up.

Had there been an Air Marshal on the plane, he'd have shot the bastard.

Deny that. I dare ya.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 4 years ago from The Midwest Author

If you want to make the case that a Federal Air Marshall is going to shoot a person that he thinks is holding a switch to a bomb that will blow the plane out of the air at 30,000 feet when he knows that the odds are greatly in his favor that the plane will be landing somewhere safely then go for it. Should be entertaining to read.

BTW... there were about five hijackers in each plane. Which bastard is the one holding the detonator, and which one is the Marshall going to shoot?

Right now you're still just in the hand waving mode, saying "look at me, look at me and pay no attention to my lack of argument in my favor."


BHirsh 4 years ago

Your condescension notwithstanding, you're all wet.

A cop would have taken the blaggard out, and continued taking blaggards out as long as he was able.

And you know it.

There is no negotiation with a radical raghead with a bomb, or a gun, or a box cutter, or anything else. This is conventional wisdom, Jack.

You're struggling to thread a needle with a 10ga cable.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 4 years ago from The Midwest Author

There ya go, Dear Readers. The best argument Hirsh can put forward. "I say so, therefore it is."


BHirsh 4 years ago

Sore loser.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 4 years ago from The Midwest Author

Notice that Hirsh never, ever, actually attempts to lay out any points with reason and persuasion. And ~he~ calls me a "sore loser." :-)

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