Why I Carry

Defending against "Infamy", No. 23, 12 September, 2001

by Paul Hager © 2001

IC Title 35, Article 47, Chapter 2. Regulation of Handguns

Article I, Section 32, Indiana Constitution

I write this one day after the coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The geopolitical environment that made the United States a target is an important issue - one that I, and others, have discussed over the years. My position on this, that U.S. meddling in the affairs of other countries is the reason we are a target, is congruent with that laid out in the Cato Handbook for the 105th Congress, Section 45.

There is also mounting evidence that that the evil impresario behind the attacks is terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. As a candidate for U.S. Representative in 1998, I wrote on the subject of bin Laden and the need for Congress to reclaim its power to declare war in Clinton's "Wag the Dog" problem due to Congressional surrender of war powers. Currently, a number of Members of Congress are said to be drafting Articles of War.

In the weeks and months ahead, as we exact just retribution for the September 11 attacks, I hope that there is a national reevaluation of U.S. foreign policy as well as a sober look at what steps may be necessary for the federal government to protect American citizens from terrorist attack without sacrificing any of our fundamental freedoms. It is in this latter area that I will focus my comments.

Terrorism is politically motivated violence directed at non-combatants. Terrorist organizations are decentralized, and their operations are carried out by individuals or small groups. Because terrorists are "spread out", it means that government counter-measures must be spread out as well, robbing government of it's principal organizational advantage.

One way to deal with a terrorist threat is to have police deployed in such numbers and with such power that it is difficult for a perpetrator to carry out his mission. The concentration of government authority this would entail and the degree to which its application would impinge on the activities of average citizens would be characteristic of a police state. Such a solution should be anathema to any American. Regrettably, it can be expected that the knee-jerk reaction to the attacks will be to call for more police and more government intrusion into our everyday lives. There is a better way.

Recall in Concealed versus open carry I discussed the "halo effect" in which people who don't carry a gun for self-defense benefit when other people carry concealed. While terrorists willing to die for a cause may not be deterred from acting because of the halo effect, it will certainly force them to alter their strategy. We saw evidence of this in Israel, were civilian carry was so effective in terminating attacks by gunmen that terrorist organizations adopted the strategy of using suicide bombers. There is a benefit in that gunmen able to attack civilians with impunity can kill large numbers of people and have some chance of escaping to engage in further terrorist acts. Suicide bombing doesn't necessarily kill more people and it tends to be a self-limiting activity since each terrorist attack eliminates the terrorist.

In the case at hand, we know that 4 groups of terrorists using knives or other edged weapons were able to commandeer 4 airliners. A knife, wielded by a combat-trained assailant, is a fearsome weapon even against someone similarly armed but untrained. As we know, a gun functions as an equalizer, eliminating disparities in strength due to gender, age, or infirmity. A 70-year-old granny could never hope to defeat a 25-year-old terrorist commando in a knife fight, but she might well prevail in a gun duel. Guns, in general, tend to favor the defender.

Aircraft hijacking came into vogue when it was discovered that almost no civilian came on board a plane armed and able to thwart the hijacker. Commercial airliners, after all, traveled between urban centers typically having strict gun control. Therefore, someone willing to break the law would have a free hand to take over the plane. Had the federal government passed a law (overriding state and municipal gun control on 2nd and 14th Amendment grounds) that allowed civilians to carry on passenger planes instead of making carry illegal, it could have eliminated hijacking at essentially no cost.

Consider the problem that would exist for a group of 6 armed terrorists where 5% of passengers are presumed to be carrying a concealed pistol for self-defense. Once the terrorists decide to take over the plane, there are probably 5 armed passengers they have to worry about. Sooner or later, one of the 5 passengers will have an opportunity to catch the terrorists with their attention diverted and start taking them out. Responding to that threat would present opportunities for the other armed passengers. Even worse for the hijackers, one would expect that airlines would require that their cockpit crews carry sidearms. Couple that with an armored cockpit door to prevent anyone from gaining easy access, and the armed takeover of a plane would be functionally impossible.

(I will note that there is evidence as I write this that passengers on United flight 93, after learning via cell phone that other hijacked planes had been used to attack the World Trade Center, launched a desperate attack on the terrorists, who were thus prevented from crashing the plane into its intended target. This action was forced upon the passengers once they realized they were going to die in any case. Earlier, when resistance could have made a difference, they lacked the power for effective action that guns would have provided.)

Obviously, an exchange of gunfire in the cabin of a plane at altitude could cause a cabin depressurization - but safety equipment already exists to deal with that. There would probably be the occasional instance of some disturbed person taking a gun on board a plane and killing several people before he or she is killed. As with the Israeli experience, armed civilians would not be effective against suicide bombers. However, no plane would ever be successfully hijacked and used as a kamikazi to kill tens of thousands of people if passengers and the flight crew could be armed.

All of the facts demonstrating the efficacy of civilian carry in every other public place or form of public conveyance argue for being able to carry on board an aircraft. The only potential argument against carrying on a plane is the possibility of depressurization that would occur if a bullet blew out a window. However, I've already addressed that argument above.

But what is the government actually proposing? Even more security measures, which include banning plastic knives! Will this prevent a determined group of terrorists from taking over a plane? I doubt it. A team of commandos skilled in hand-to-hand combat could take over a plane without using any weapons, though I assume that smuggling weapons on board will still be possible despite the new security measures.

Thus we are presented with two radically different alternatives. The first is more restrictions, which results in more delays and inconvenience for passengers. This translates into higher costs, with no evidence that the threat of terrorist attack is reduced. There is also the intangible cost deriving from the public's ready acceptance of a widening sphere of government control and concomitant loss of personal freedom. History shows that this process, once set in motion, is difficult to reverse. It is the process by which every previous attempt at self-government has degenerated into oligarchy.

The second alternative is to allow people to make their own choices. It doesn't take many people exercising their right of self-defense to make what happened yesterday impossible. Ultimately, the worst consequence of our "day of infamy" is that we succumb to fear and trade essential liberty for the illusion of security.