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

Updated on August 30, 2012

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.


  • 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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