Thursday, March 27, 2008

TSA Stupidity Puts Pilots At Risk!

What's wrong with this picture?

Nearly everything.

This is the holster that is mandated by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) for use by armed pilots. You've all read about the "negligent discharge" in the U.S. Airways plane out of Denver this week:
(AP) A gun belonging to the pilot of a US Airways plane went off as the aircraft was on approach to land in North Carolina over the weekend, the first time a weapon issued under a federal program to arm pilots was fired, authorities said.

The "accidental discharge" Saturday aboard Flight 1536 from Denver, Colorado, to Charlotte, North Carolina, did not endanger the aircraft or the 124 passengers, two pilots and three flight attendants aboard, said Greg Alter of the Federal Air Marshal Service.

"We know that there was never any danger to the aircraft or to the occupants on board," Alter said Monday.

It is the first time a pilot's weapon has been fired on a plane under a program created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to allow pilots and others to use a firearm to defend against any act of air piracy or criminal violence, he said.

The federal Transportation Security Administration is investigating how the gun discharged and is being assisted by the Air Marshal Service, Alter said. Officials did not say where the bullet hit.
TSA is investigating? Let's look at the anatomy of an accidental discharge that was absolutely bound to happen, thanks to the rocket scientists from TSA. First off, gun selection. The TSA decided that all pilots who wished to take part in the armed pilot program had to use H-K USP .40 S&W:
All people eligible to carry guns in the cockpit carry the same weapon, the .40-caliber semiautomatic H&K USP.

“This is an extremely safe and reliable weapon,” said Greg Alter of the Federal Air Marshal Service. “It’s not going to discharge on its own, is the bottom line.”
All understanding is that the gun chosen for the pilots is the double-action-only version using H-K's LEM (Law Enforcement Module) system to lighten the DA pull. Here's the H-K catalog page.

What do we know about double-action only guns, whether they be semiautos or revolvers? Well, the first thing we know is that if you pull the trigger, the gun will go bang. The longer DA stroke guarantees that there has to be a deliberate pull of the trigger for the gun to fire.

Here's an important question...does it take a deliberate finger to pull a trigger? Ummmm, no...the trigger doesn't know or care what pulls it. You can pull a trigger with a pencil, a tree branch or the snagged tail of your shirt. People who carry pocket pistols not in a pocket holster have pulled the trigger with their pocket change. And consider the word "deliberate." A finger on the trigger can unintentionally fire a gun, say if the person whose finger is on the trigger is jossled or bumped, or if they have to grab with their weak hand, which can sometimes cause a sympathetic clinching of hand on the gun. Or let's say your finger is on the trigger when you attempt to reholster the'll go bang every time...probably the most common neglient discharge in the world.

That trigger thing is why we have moved to holsters for concealed carry and competition that fully cover the trigger guard, blocking access to the trigger. The harder it is to get to the trigger accidentally, the less likely the gun is going to go bang when we don't want it to.

What's another thing we've learned from the last 30 years of practical pistol shooting and the revolution in civilian training about gun safety? An important thing is to minimize the Futz Factor, loosely defined as "Every time you handle the gun, it has the opportunity to go off; reduce the times you handle the loaded gun, and you reduce the opportunities for a negligent discharge."

Here's an the early days of IPSC, we had stages that required the competitor to shoot and/or do a physical challenge, holster a hot gun and complete an additional physical challenge before shooting again. We eliminated those types of stages because it had competitors at all levels of training, including beginners, holstering a hot gun, which we felt added an unnecessary level of risk. Hot ranges, where everyone is locked and loaded all the time, are not intrinsically more dangerous that cold ranges, where all guns are unloaded before they are holsterd, but they are generally not for newbies.

Regardless, for pure safety reasons, we minimize handling a loaded gun, based on essentially a risk/reward equation. Should you practice draws with a loaded gun? Absolutely not, because you gain nothing over practicing draws with an empty gun and you increase the risk.

Given those parameters, what makes more sense for carrying a loaded gun in a car, something I do every day:
1) Should I have a separate storage area in the car so that every time I enter and exit the car, I take the gun out of my holster, secure it in the storage area, lock the storage area, then retrieve the gun and reholster it in the narrow confines of the car when I reenter?

2) Should I enter the car with the gun in my holster, and every time I exit the car I remove the holster from my belt, attach a locking device to the holster, secure the holster in a separate storage area, then retrieve the holster and thread it back onto my belt when I return to the vehicle?

3) Should I choose a holster that's comfortable, then leave the gun in its holster while I'm driving?
From a pure safety standpoint, only number 3 makes sense. Anything other than 3 drastically increases the Futz Factor, eg, I'm handing a hot weapon many more times. Secondly, when I handle a weapon in a constrained space, it puts greater stress on me to not sweep my Sweetie, who's sitting in the passenger seat, or Alf the Wonder Beagle, who's in the back of the car. I am forced into occasionally awkward positions, and if I have to manipulate the gun in any way, it is much harder than the more straightforward standing in the open moves.

Ideally — and I recognize that nothing is ideal — I want to put my carry gun on before I leave the house and not touch it again until I take if off in the evening. If I have to draw it in the interim, it is because my life is in danger.

Let's think about gun retention...when am I most at risk for having my gun taken away from me? How about, when I am Futzing with it...when the gun is in my hand in a shooting grip, it's actually pretty hard to snatch it away from me, because I'm a monkey and Monkey Grip Good! We're designed to grip, and we know how to hold on...if you've got kids, have you ever tried to extract one who really wanted to hang onto Mommy or Daddy? I can also bring the gun close to my body, which would bring the snatcher within reach of my dangerous weak hand.

When a gun is in the holster on the belt, it is also relatively secure...I can turn my body away from the snatcher to protect the gun; I can cover the gun with my hand (or hands); I can fight...the things in a monkey's harwired arsenal. But when I'm performing a non-hardwired action — placing the gun in a storage container; taking a holstered weaon off or putting it on my belt, I'm at maximum risk for losing control of the weapon.

Let's talk about that holster now. Why do we cover the trigger guard? To keep something hard from coming in contact with the trigger. What would we call a holster that has a hole cut in it to allow a person to place a hard object that can potentially come in contact with the trigger of a gun that has no additional manual safety? Unsafe...or more appropriately, stupid.

Very very stupid.

And what would you think if a requirement of your job was to constantly remove such a holster and then place the hard steel bar of a lock through the holster and trigger guard, then remove the lock and redeploy the holster when you came back? Personally, I'd be pretty worried — as a firearms professional, I'd find this system guaranteed to fail. Sooner or later, it goes bang.

And it did.

This from the Crime Files News, one of the few tiny bits of information to leak out no damning the pilot or the gun:
It was only a matter of time before there’d be an accidental, non-negligent discharge of a Federal Flight Deck Officer’s weapon. Saturday a U.S. Airways pilot’s gun discharged on Flight 1536, which left Denver at approximately 6:45am and arrived in Charlotte at approximately 11:51am. The Airbus A319 plane landed safely and thankfully none of the flight’s 124 passengers or five crew members was injured

The insane procedures required by the TSA demands that our pilots to lock and then un-lock their .40 side arms was and is a solid recipe for disaster. Did the TSA deliberately create this bizarre and unconventional Rube Goldberg firearm retention system hoping for this result? The sordid history of the FAA and TSA’s total resistance to the concept of arming pilots to protect Americans is in itself a scandal.

Putting a gun into a holster and then threading a padlock through the trigger and trigger-guard is required every time the pilots enter or leave the cockpit. This kind of silliness has never been forced on any law enforcement or security officers anywhere in the world until now. Before this holster padlock procedure pilots with guns were forced to carry them around in a cumbersome 22 pound vault. The vault caused problems in the confined space of most cockpits.
The later Associated Press reports say the ND happened as the pilot was trying to stow the gun for landing.

We won't know for certain until TSA issues their investigative results/cover-up, which will probably find the pilot was a closet lunatic and the H-K actually jumped around the cabin barking and threatening to shoot everyone. Just take a good look at that holster and ask yourself one further question:

Would you carry one?


Anonymous said...

I thoought the picture was a joke until I read the story!

Anonymous said...

I,also, thought it was a joke!

When I first heard the story I just shook my head in wonder.

Now that I have read the background I am simply disgusted.

Is there absolutely no other thing that idiotic boneheaded agency could do to torpedo the basic intent of the law?


Anonymous said...

OK I have calmed down a bit and here, in a nutshell, is my bottom line on this situation.

Whoever the lame brains are who came up with this STUPID requirement, and put all the barriers out to hinder the pilots ability to qualify for the firearms rating, should immediately be FIRED!

Damn, now I'm pissed off again!

Michael Bane said...


The holster is a DeSantis FDO, apparently first trotted out in the Clinton era. And no, don't blame Gene DeSantis for this's built to a government spec, purchased by the government and issued to various and sundry federal agencies.

The holster was issued with a padlock and the instructions to keep the gun locked in the holster when it was not on the belt.

The smart ones threw the padlocks away...


Michael Bane said...



BELLEVUE, WA – The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms today is calling for an independent investigation of an in-flight discharge of a pistol carried by an armed U.S. Airways pilot to prevent any whitewashing, cover-up or scapegoating in the incident.

CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb said the incident is alarming because of allegations that the pilot may have been following strict Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules when the mishap occurred. Those rules came under fire today from the Airline Pilots Security Alliance (APSA), which represents thousands of commercial airline pilots.
“Today, we are calling for an independent investigation of this incident, to be conducted by a panel of civilian firearms instructors and gun safety experts,” Gottlieb stated. “This will eliminate any possibility or future assertion that the TSA whitewashed this incident and used the pilot as a scapegoat to preserve unsafe regulations..."

Good! This is the purpose of the blogosphere!


Unknown said...


Hmm, I thought it was Galco. You are far better placed to know, so I bow before you.

I used to see ads for this holster all the time touting the lockability (You can use handcuffs!) as a selling point.

The print ad had the holster/padlock shot as well as a shot of the holstered gun hanging from a closet rod by a pair of handcuffs.

It never seemed too safe to me.

Unknown said...

Just to prove I'm NOT crazy...well, on this anyway... Galco makes a very similar model called the Holster Vault.

Whew. Another day of avoiding the "home."

Anonymous said...

here is the incident report

Anonymous said...

Just like so many other situations in government, the management in the TSA is political and has differed with Congress over support for the FFDO program for years. The Federal Air Marshall officers (these are the full time cops under TSA) have also recommended changes to their bosses to no avail.

Here is a quote from the APSA press release...
"A special working group within the Federal Air Marshal Service recommended TSA adopt
standard federal weapons carriage rules for flight officers last year to prevent accidents. But,
TSA officials declined to implement the group’s recommendation"

Anonymous said...

The TSA should have ZERO authority over rules regarding guns. Hell, they don't even have real badges - just a sewn on patch. THey can barely ID a gun going through security so what makes them think they know how to handle one?

Anonymous said...

Another reason to believe that the creation of the TSA and the federalization of baggage screeners was one of the stupidest things Bush did or allowed post 9/11. It has created 19 year olds whose officiousness would make Eric Cartman of South Park look normal.

Michael Bane said...


Don't dis Cartman!

"Respect my autho----reee----tha!"

mb, still pissed off at tsa

LurkMastR said...

The frequency of TSA brain farts is astounding. There seems to be a news story at least weekly on something stupid they've done like:

- the locked holster for pilots
- forcing a woman to remove a piercing to get through security
- opening a medically sterile package and endangering the health and well-being of a child

Looks to me like somebody's head should roll over this kind of crap.

Anonymous said...

I completely fail to see how this is TSA's fault. The holster/lock combination thing has been in use by many federal agencies for years. Would I personally use it? No. But that doesn't mean it's death-on-a-stick.

The FFDO program has been working smoothly for years. This is the first and only time such an accident has taken place. Law enforcement officials refer to this as a "clue."

The pilot failed to follow SOP and did something he was specifically taught not to do. Period.

Anonymous said...

This (and all other "trigger lock" devices) is a perfect example of why those who are ignorant of guns should not be making rules involving guns.

Not only is putting things inside the trigger guard monumentally stupid, there are pleanty of guns out there with fold away guards(Garand, M1A, AR, PPK, lever action anything...).

Anonymous said...

Seems to be an argument for switching to either P7s, redone into a sleek 357 sig...

Anonymous said...

Being an automotive engineer, I know first-hand that making something to Federal Spec's doesn't absolve you of responsibility when you're sued. I have to also add, that this design defies common sense. Remember, it's brought to you by the people that are going to: Fix Health Care, Dissolve Social Security and Medicare (They've put the "entitlement" spin on it, so that they won't feel guilty about that!), fix the home mortgage "crisis" and bring us "change that we can belive in".
Life Member

Anonymous said...

I suppose this exonerates the pilot. When the story first broke, everyone surely assumed he put his grubby finger on the trigger when he shouldn't have. I'd say far less culpability should be ascribed to the pilot for accidentally seating the lock forward of the trigger instead of behind it and then ramming the pistol into the holster.

It's clearly a bad arrangement. I'm not sure why the holster designers [and those who selected it for Federal use] did not prefer a lockable steel thumb break or some other method.

Can anyone cite other Federal agencies that use these? I'd be interested to know what part of this story is really standard operating procedure, and what part the TSA put together in their haste to make airlines "more secure."

Anonymous said...

There are a number of other federal agencies (both within and outside the Dept of Homeland Security, which is the department under which TSA operates) that use this or a similar holster arrangement. They were mandated in part due to a Clinton-era order requiring all federal agents to secure their weapons when not in use. Their use pre-existed the formation of the FFDO program by many years.

The holster design is perfectly safe unless you seat the loaded gun into the holster improperly. FFDO's are specifically taught how to use the holster properly to avoid such an accident. The assumption is that someone smart & responsible enough to fly a few hundred people through the sky in a multi-ton aluminum tube would be smart & responsible enough to holster a pistol properly.

For those who wish to further the conspiracy theories with accusations that this stuff was chosen by bureaucrats unfamiliar with guns, that's simply untrue. The group that selected the FFDO gear was made up of veteran federal law enforcement firearms and tactics instructors, and much of the FFDO's training program has been co-located with the Federal Air Marshal's program for quite a while.

Furthermore, the holster was in part a response to complaints by the pilots that a previously recommended procedure was too cumbersome and made it too difficult to deploy the gun under emergency conditions.

Anonymous said...

Toddg, you make the point percisely. "The holster design is perfectly safe unless you seat the loaded gun into the holster improperly." That is the same idea that NASA had just before the space shuttle Columbia exploded.

You build devices, systems and procedures to take into account error and accident. When you walk the line so closely that any deviation results in disaster and catastrophe you can only blame the designer. "stupid is as stupid does" to quote a brilliant man.

Anonymous said...

nj_larry -- I understand where you're coming from, but any dangerous device can be involved in an accident if proper procedures aren't followed. This isn't a case of a "fine line" or minor deviation. A number of sequential failing on the part of the pilot had to take place for the accident to occur. He had to unsnap the holster, allow the gun to be withdrawn a bit from the holster, failed to notice both of these facts before putting the lock on, choose to put the lock on while still in mid-air, then only after putting the lock on and finally noticing the snap was undone he pushed the pistol into the holster to snap it closed resulting in a discharge. There were multiple failures of SOP.

Anonymous said...

Toddg, I will leave it at this. The proof is in the pudding. The gun went bang. Therefore the SOP was missing something.

MB is right. The more you keep handling the gun the more the chance of it going bang. You had to outline multiple steps. Each time the cockpit door is opened they need to lock up the gun. Each time the door closes again they have to unlock the gun. That makes NO sense to me.

From my reading the TSA and FEDS wanted no part of this program. The cops were threatened by civilians being armed. In typical beauracrat fashion they did what they could to make it fail.

Anonymous said...

Yes ToddG but what you fail to realise is that people make mistakes. Pilots make mistakes. As an airline pilot and airline pilot instructor I've tought this for years. Humans will make mistakes but it's the barriers that we put into place to mitigate or lessen the effect of these mistakes is what's important. Pilots deal with a lot more complex circumstances than putting a lock through a holster, but every day pilots make mistakes. In the airline industry we lessen the chances and seriousness of those mistakes by deeply analyzing procedures and policies. Those procedures and policies that cause a greater chance of risk we change. We don't set our pilots up for failure.

Other agencies may use this system but they use the lock and holster at home when they take their weapon off. They don't use it on duty and while flying an airplane at 500mph. There is just too much going on in an airplane cockpit to have to mess with a firearm unless you need to use it. Other agencies that use this system aren't in a cockpit, in weather, going 500mph. It you haven't done it, stuff happens fast at that speed. It's not the time to have to go through this weapon handling, locking mess just because you have to go pee. I take my hats off to the professional pilots that have thus far proven to have the safest record of any law enforcement agency while in a tube going the speed of a .45 bullet!

Anonymous said...

The DHS Inpsector General conducted an investigation of this holster system last fall, after receiving complaints from FFDO's concerned about their safety.

The comments made by the IG agents and armorer were, "incredible, how stupid, I can't believe this" ....

The IG recommended the procedure be changed.

Actually this is not the first AD of this weapon/holster. Only the first one on a plane. There have been injuries.

Todd G sounds very much like the FFDO administrator defending his job.

BTW, never did an FFDO complain about the old system making it hard to deploy the weapon in an emergency. It was just plain cumbersome and heavy.

Make a system prone to fail, and it will- it has.

Anonymous said...

You must be a pilot to realize that things do happen fast in the cockpit, and that with a reduction of the crew size to 2 pilots, work loads have increased quite a bit, additionally when flying in weather things get jostled around in the airplane due to turbulence.
The fact that there has been a few ADs associated with this set up, ( Rumor, 3 ADs, on the ground) should put those responsible on guard. No wonder we are going down as a nation!
Keep covering up the screw ups with secrecy. What a miscarriage of the law!!!.
This should serve as a warning to the rest of volunteers pilots as to what will happen to their careers if they make a mistake, they will lose their jobs. The guy got fired! Ex Air Force Capt. and a reserve LEO.

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