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Laughable': We Asked Experts (Including a Former CIA Officer) to Weigh in on Rev. Jackson's Claim That 'Assault Weapons' Can 'Shoot Down Planes


"As likely as aliens knocking on my front door tomorrow"

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 18: In this photo illustration a Rock River Arms AR-15 rifle is seen on December 18, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The weapon is similar in style to the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle that was used during a massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Firearm sales have surged recently as speculation of stricter gun laws and a re-instatement of the assault weapons ban following the mass shooting. Credit: Getty Images

The Rev. Jesse Jackson went a step further than almost anyone else on the left on Monday when he weighed in on the gun control debate currently gripping the United States.

In his estimation, not only are semi-automatic guns and so-called "assault weapons" a danger to average citizens -- they pose a distinct threat to homeland security.

How is that?  Well, apparently they can "shoot down airplanes."

Here is the full statement, made on Fox News:

These semi-automatic weapons, these assault weapons, can only kill people, and in fact, they are threats to national security… The young man who did the killing in Aurora, Colorado, with the arsenal he had– he was right near the airport, right near the runways [in] Denver.  He could shoot down airplanes, so this is a matter of homeland security as well.

And here is video:

So what do the experts have to say about Jackson's claim?

The best any could say in Jackson's favor, essentially, was that "anything's possible" but that you have a "better chance of being hit by lightning WHILE winning the lottery" (see below).

TheBlaze asked a number of experts these questions via email:

1) Assuming Jackson was talking about [alleged Aurora, Colorado gunman] James Holmes' guns and not any explosives he may have had (he said he could "shoot down" the planes), could a private citizen really shoot down a plane with a semi-automatic or assault weapon?  Does this include all planes, or just smaller, more low-riding planes?

2) Do you know of this ever happening outside of a war zone?

Jason Hanson, a former officer for the Central Intelligence Agency and the author of​ The Covert Guide to Concealed Carry​, responded:

I just read the Jesse Jackson quote and quite frankly it's laughable. It's clear Rev. Jackson doesn't know the first thing about rifles and guns in general. It's like me making a comment about quilting (something I know absolutely nothing about.) With the type of rifle that James Holmes had it would be impossible to shoot down a plane. (Okay, nothing is impossible, but it would be as likely as aliens knocking on my front door tomorrow.) I've never heard of a rifle shooting down civilians plane outside of a war zone either.

Chris Gahr, who assisted in aircraft investigations while in the U.S. Marine Corps, gave more technical detail in his answer, but drew the same conclusion:

Jackson’s statement was uninformed and defies common sense. However, it may be a good Hollywood plot.

Considerations in bringing down an airplane with a rifle as a national security threat:

1. maximum effect range of the weapon fired vertically

2. caliber of the rifle

3. internal factors – quality and training of the shooter,number of rounds fired, weapon accuracy.

4. external factors – wind, speed of the airplane, rain, amount of available light, distance from the airplane, and of course the most important element -Blind Luck.

Is there a possibility that it could happen? Yes. But you would have a better chance of being hit by lightning WHILE winning the lottery than bringing down a commercial airliner with the weapons that Holmes carried.

Michael Knox, a forensic science and criminology consultant in Jacksonville, Florida, who specializes in firearms, ballistics, shooting incidents, and crime scene reconstruction, refuted the media rhetoric surrounding different types of weapons, adding:

Jesse Jackson's comments could not be further from the truth...Although it would theoretically possible for one to stand at the end of a runway and fire rounds into an airplane that cause disabling damage to engines, controls, or hydraulic systems, the chances of shooting down an aircraft with small arms is extremely remote. The AR-15 is no more capable than any other firearm of shooting down a plane--less capable than most hunting rifles--so, Jesse Jackson's claim would mean that all firearms are a threat to national security. Clearly, Jackson is reaching for gun control rhetoric and he would be well-served to do some research on firearms before making such absurd public statements.

In March 2008, a US Airways pilot accidentally discharged his weapon in the plane's cockpit soon before landing. The Associated Press obtained a photo of the exit hole on the plane's exterior. (Photo: AP)

Major Fernando Molina of the U.S. Air Force has spent thousands of hours in planes both fighting and as an instructor.  He contributed:

I am not a gun expert, but I do know aircraft and what effects different threats to aircraft are.

I can tell you with a degree of certainty that it is highly unlikely you would EVER shoot down an airplane, even a Cesna with any small caliber weapon such as a semi-automatic or assault weapon. In order to accomplish this with "small caliber weapons" such as these you would need to be standing on the ramp as it rolls past you, or on the end of the runway as it takes off toward you.

I have seen many examples of attempts by varying classes of weapons, from small arms to surface to air missiles.

There you have it.  In fact, there was even a case in 2008 where a bullet was accidentally fired on a commercial plane, in a cockpit​ by a pilot and the passengers remained unaware.  The plane was landing at the time, but according to the Associated Press, the bullet struck no crucial controls, nor did it result in depressurization.

Final verdict: Rev. Jesse Jackson needs to find a better argument.



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