The reverberations of the Trade Towers' collapse were still echoing across America when those sounds were joined by that of barn doors closing. It was the CIA, hamstrung these many years, that hadn't done its job. No, it was the FBI, not recognizing suspects and co-conspirators as they slipped in and out of custody. It was the INS that had not done its job and now there are at least 11 million undocumented aliens within the United States' borders and nobody knows where they are or what they are doing. The FAA had abdicated its responsibility and allowed the airlines to fob off flight security to the lowest bidder. All contributors, certainly, to the sorrow of September. But, was there a single solution? One policy that could have changed the event?
Yes. A rational, reasonable federal concealed carry law.
Guns? People carrying guns on airplanes? Allowed to by the federal government? Yes.
Had such a policy, girded by law, been in effect on September 11 the chances are more than adequate that among the several hundred law-abiding passengers aboard four airliners there would have been a few sufficient to have prevented the awesome event. There would have been 19 dead or wounded terrorists, and some three thousand living citizens.
Facts, as John Adams said, are stubborn things.
One fact is that in those states where carry laws exist, Florida a good example, the incidence of violent crime is down. Predictions of violence by those who own and carry guns were not borne out; the very possibility of a citizenry capable of efficient defense has proved a powerful deterrent. President Bush's home state is another example. Compare Florida's and Texas's statistics with those from areas where "gun control" is and has been in stringent effect for years -- New York City, the District of Columbia -- and the argument that legally armed citizens are dangerous disappears.
Another fact of course is that the very possibility that those deliberately disarmed lambs awaiting slaughter on those airplanes might instead be capable of resistance would probably have quashed the al Qaeda plan entirely. Even our ponderous bureaucracy would not grant a federal carry permit to an alien with a suspect or expired visa, and box cutters will do only when the victims are allowed no more than cell phones.
Ponderous? Consider that the FAA issued a secure cockpit door order several days after the events of September 11 and gave the airlines 90 days in which to comply! When a deranged fellow burst through one unprotected door and forced a flight to land under fighter escort in Chicago, the compliance time was shortened, but only slightly. Five months later the FAA still is modifying orders relating to cockpit door security and the federal government is giving up, finally, on the major private security firm charged with boarding security at the major airports. Even today, how many sky marshals are aboard planes? We know there wasn't one aboard when the shoe-bomber boarded in Paris, or when a passenger attacked the cockpit of a Miami-Buenos Aires flight more recently.
The inability of the federal bureaucracy to protect in a preventive fashion is underscored as the CIA and FBI are slowly weaned from their habit of posterior inquiry to one of priority -- a process akin to turning great ships from their accustomed course. After the fact, murderers are identified. Masterminds are sought. Anthrax strains identified. Rewards multiplied. Along the way, a newly created federal being issues occasional and vague cries of alarm.
Ironically, liberals favoring gun control have tried to take advantage of the terrorist attack as an inducement to more gun control. U.S. Attorney Eric Holder even published an op-ed in the Washington Post to that end. Disarming honest citizenry has become a panacea once again for wanton murder. Panicked airlines confiscate from bewildered passengers items such as nail clippers and cigarette lighters. Attorney General Ashcroft came under heavy fire at Senate Judiciary Committee hearings from Democratic senators who wanted him to have the FBI check the confidential NICS records to see if any of the 1,200 or so persons detained after the Sept. 11 attack had bought or tried to buy guns, in effect turning the National Instant Criminal Background Check System into what its original critics warned it would become, a federal gun registration act. To his credit, Ashcroft has so far resisted, despite the PR appeal of any proposal with "anti-terrorist" attached.
A reasoned, rational federal concealed carry law could be enacted only after Sisyphean effort in Congress, and with the support of the President whose state already has such a law.
As we look to a murky future, where the terrorist has the advantage of surprise and the choice of venues, there remains the stubborn fact that some three thousand people need not have died that easily, or at all, on September 11, 2001.
Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.