FDCH Political Transcripts

News Conference held on August 26, 2003 Tuesday, in Washington, DC






MODERATOR: Now we will hear from Dr. John Lott, who is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, author of "More Guns, Less Crime" and "Bias Against Guns. "

Dr. Lott.

LOTT: Thanks.

It's an honor to be here as the one non-pilot that they've asked to speak.

We're just a couple weeks away from the second anniversary of 9/11 and yet we see recent headlines, as Captain Lambert just mentioned, that mention the continued threat that Al Qaida poses to our airline industry. Unfortunately, our air travel is still very vulnerable to hijacking. Quick measures need to be taken.

Another successful attack would greatly undermine public confidence in travel.

LOTT: And I think it would be much longer before we begin to see passengers returning to travel than we did after the first attack. It's been two years that the (AUDIO GAP). It'll be extremely difficult to go and regain people's confidence, because you'll have to explain to them why the first two years wasn't sufficient time in order to try to stop the threat and what you're doing now that you didn't try to do previously and why that will work.

Consider the following. Pilots indicate that while flights out of Reagan are fairly well covered with air marshals, recent reports indicate that it's essentially zero over large parts of the country that are being covered by air marshals. Only a small fraction of flights to Europe are being covered, and then only one day a week.

Point two. The newest generation of reinforced cockpit doors was put in place in April, but few experts have much faith in their effectiveness. Last summer, on a bet, a cleaning crew at Dulles Airport rammed a drink cart into one of the new doors on a United plane. The door reportedly broke off its hinges.

A third aspect. No tests of airport screening have been made public since the government took over the screening process last fall, but in private meetings that I've attended the Transportation Security Administration readily acknowledges that there are a wide range of essentially undetectable weapons that can be taken onto planes.

For example, without full body searches it's possible for somebody to have a plastic or a ceramic knife taped to the inside of their thigh. You know, no matter what types of metal detectors that you have or X-rays, unless you're going to actually go and pat somebody down on the inside of their thigh you're not going to be able to detect that.

So unless you have full body searches, you know, determined hijackers or terrorists are going to be able to get weapons onto planes.

Several reports were put out last year by the Transportation Security Administration indicating how easy it was to go and bring even readily detectable metal guns and metal knives onto planes. Unfortunately, those types of reports have stopped being issued even under that very simple level of security since the government took over the screening process.

The government's basically been relying on three types of ways to stop hijacking: marshals, screening and cockpit doors. And as we've said, all three of those have major problems associated with them.

The program, though, has also proved to be very costly. Much lament has been made about recent discussions about cutting back on the number of screeners at airports, and also there's been discussions in the press about possibly curtailing or limiting the air marshal program.

Yet with so few marshals and the ineffectiveness of screeners, such cuts do not really pose the real concern. In terms of cost- effectiveness, I would argue it's hard to think of any other policy other than arming pilots that produces as high of a benefit in terms of ratio of benefits to cost.

Unlike the marshals programs or screeners, for example, no additional salary is required to pay for these pilots to carry guns with them on planes. These guys would probably be willing to pay for the opportunity to do that if necessary, and they demonstrate that in terms of the costs that they're willing to bear in terms of taking off time to undergo things like the training program that's offered.

Yet almost two years after the attacks, we have only about 200 air marshals, as Captain Bob Lambert mentioned, out of about 100,000 commercial passenger pilots.

LOTT: You know, worse has been that the Transportation Security Administration seems to have done what it can to not only make sure that pilots aren't trained, but to discourage those who are willing to do so.

You know, following what seemed like a successful first class of pilots this spring, the TSA administration fired the head of the Firearms Training Academy, Willie Ellison, for, quote, "unacceptable behavior in performance and conduct." Ellison, who won praise of the students, was reprimanded for holding a graduation dinner for the first graduation class, and giving baseball caps with program logos. As was also mentioned, the program facility has been closed down and relocated, creating additional delays.

Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the Aviation Subcommittee, complained that the closing appeared to be, quote, "just another attempt to disrupt the program." On top of the delays, the administration has done what it can to discourage pilots from even applying for the program.

You know, about -- just to give you some idea of the stringent psychological screening tests and other screening that they've had for the pilots and how these are so much tougher than they've been for, let's say, air marshals, about half the pilots applying for the program have been rejected through initial screening tests.

Just to get some idea, I mean, these are pilots, as was mentioned, who already had to go through psychological screening to get their jobs, to begin with, have undergone additional screening since 9-11, regularly every six months have to undergo new screening. And yet, the program has rejected over half of these people to begin with.

Also bothersome is the fact that no objective standards have been given to the pilots so they know why they've been rejected. Some of these that have been rejected have been contacted afterwards, saying that the initial screening process was flawed and that they'll be allowed to continue in the program.

But if you look at other types of jobs that involve security, such as people who work in the military or police, those many objective rules are readily communicated to them. And people, if they're rejected, are allowed to go and challenge the rejections there. No such similar arrangements exist for pilots.

You know, one of the problems is we have a lot of hypothetical concerns that have been raised about pilots being able to have guns with them on planes, yet this is not a new and experimental program. Pilots have been armed for a good portion of aviation history in the United States.

Commercial airline pilots in the United States were required to carry handguns with them, up until the early 1960s, whenever the plane carried mail. And since the pilots often didn't know until they were at the plane, whether mail was going to be on it, virtually all pilots regularly carried handguns with them.

After 1963 -- I mean, this was without the type of training requirements and other types of requirements that we're currently asking of the pilots. Pilots were, in fact, allowed to carry guns with them, up until 1987. And yet, when you look at this very extensive history of pilots carrying guns on commercial passenger flights, you simply can't find evidence of any types of problems. The type of hypothetical concerns that people raise are exactly that, hypothetical. They're not real concerns that have any basis in actual fact.

Pilots are limited to carrying their guns in the cockpit. That's where their authority is limited to. These guys, as part of their psychological screening, they've proven over many times that they follow rules. Pilots you know, there's many concerns that have been raised with pilots carrying guns.

LOTT: One of the concerns is that the weapons will taken from them. I would argue, you know, even you put aside the issues about if the terrorists are already in the cockpit and are able to take the guns away from the pilot, whether or not the pilot loses his gun at that point is probably of secondary concern.

But the main issue, the evidence that's been brought up in order to try to take guns away from pilots, has been the claim that, well, police use their guns, and police on duty are killed with their own guns.

You can look at the FBI Uniform Crime Reports for 2000. Forty- seven officers in the United States were killed with a gun. Out of that, 33 cases involved a handgun.

Yet out of all those deaths, only one case in the year 2000 involved a police officer losing control of his gun and actually being killed by the gun.

When you look at the number of police officers who have been assaulted, you figure in the possibilities that they can lose control of their guns, you're talking about only eight thousandths of 1 percent of just officers that are assaulted have lost control of their guns.


LOTT: ... the administration recently brought up the idea of again possibly delaying pilots getting guns and saying, "Well, maybe we should give them access to tasers."

If you look at the experience that police have had with tasers, for example, in the New York Police Department, which has had probably the most extensive history of tasers being used by police, you find that in a third of the cases that police use tasers, they're ineffective against criminals.

You may remember, for example, the Rodney King case, obviously, where tasers were used against him and were unable to restrain him. It's even more likely that terrorists, who would be even less successful to be able to be used against them because things like heavy clothing and other things are very effective at preventing tasers from being useful.

And even in the taser guidelines, when the manufacturer says you should always have a lethal weapon as a backup for a taser, and in that case it would be a gun.

Well, as I say, we could go on and talk about other things. I've been asked to address at least some of the objections that have been raised with regard to arming pilots, as I've done in my other research.

But the bottom line is that it's very difficult for the administration to claim confidence that screening, reinforced doors or air marshals are enough to provide security.

And I think that the Transportation Security Administration, if directly addressed that and honestly said would have to admit it. The bottom line is that protecting people should be as important as requirements for protecting mail once were on the part of commercial airline pilots in the United States.

Thank you very much for your time.

*The question and answer session was quite interesting, but unfortunately the transcript did not do a very good job of recording more than a fraction of it.

John Lott's Website

Johnlott.org (description of book, downloadable data sets, and discussions of previous controversies)

Academic papers:

Social Science Research Network

Book Reviews:

For a list of book reviews on The Bias Against Guns, click here.

List of my Op-eds

Posts by topic

Appalachian law school attack

Baghdad murder rate

Arming Pilots

Fraudulent website pretending to be run by me

Ayres and Donohue

Stanford Law Review

Mother Jones article

Vin Suprynowicz quote


Craig Newmark

Eric Rasmusen

William Sjostrom

Dr. T's EconLinks.com

Interview with National Review Online

Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at www.johnlott.org:

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper