Guns on a Plane

We attended a symposium at the Institute of Military Technology a while back, and one of the talks was on the development of the AR-10, given by C. Reed Knight Jr. One of the neat anecdotes he shared really brought to light the change in public and political view of guns in public life.

In late 1956, Stoner was taking one of the very first AR-10 prototypes to Springfield Armory for testing – the AR10 was a late entry into ongoing rifle tests, and it was a potentially huge opportunity for Armalite (which had less than a dozen employees at the time). Stoner was running late to make his connecting flight into Massachusetts, and ran to the gate without taking the time to check his small suitcase. The suitcase which, as it happened, had a disassembled select-fire AR-10 inside.

Early AR-10
One of the very first “production” (actually handmade) AR-10 rifles. This may have actually been the one Stoner was carrying… (Photo from collection of C. Reed Knight Jr)

He made it to the plane – a small puddle-jumper – in time to get aboard and worked his way to a seat at the back of the passenger compartment, a bit out of breath and not paying attention to anyone else, simply happy to have made the flight. Throughout the flight, he got an odd feeling about two men in the front of the plane, who were professionally dressed but seemed unusually interested in watching the other passengers. Things got stranger when the plan landed, and one of the two men stood up and asked everyone else to stay in their seats until Vice President Nixon had exited the plane. Stoner didn’t say anything, and wasn’t given a second glance.

Yep, turns out he had merrily carried a machine gun onto an airplane with the #2 political official, right past a pair of Secret Service agents. It might surprise some people today to learn that such an action did not, in fact, tear a hole in the space-time continuum, much less land anyone in jail. The past isn’t perfect in many ways, but there are some aspects of it I wouldn’t mind having back…


  1. Politicians and those who guarded them back in those days must have had much less preying on their consciences…

  2. I remember in late 1969, boarding a flight behind some military guys dressed in dress uniform, and carrying slung M14 rifles.

  3. I just wish i could transport in a locked case and not worry about being arrested in New York if I have to deplane for a layover.

  4. In the 1960s my reserve unit marched in the Memorial Day parade on 5th Ave in NYC. Gen. Westmoreland reviewed the parade. At the end I couldn’t find the chartered bus back to our base in Queens, so I just hopped on the subway, carrying my M1 Garand. I don’t remember anybody even looking at me or the rifle.

  5. My mother was in high school in 1944 and was in a school play where she played a soldier. She was asked by the teacher along with the other girls who played soldiers to bring their .22 rifles in for the play (and on the school bus, of course). There weren’t many boys in the class, they all had signed up and left for war. The bus driver didn’t give them a second glance…

  6. Acceptable norms and social attitudes were very different then, and paranoia a lot less rampant in some respects, unless it was directly related to the ideology of the era, what with the Cold War, McCarthyism and all.

  7. By the way, did Nixon and his entourage ever realize what had happened on that flight with Eugene Stoner?

  8. When my dad was 14 in the late 1940s, he went to a Sears store by himself and legally bought a .22 rifle in the city of Chicago. He used to carry the uncased rifle on streetcars to go varmint hunting in the praries on the outskirts of the city. No one had any problems with this.

  9. You should see a bus/train station in Israel on a Sunday/Thursday.
    M-16s, TARs by the dozen 🙂

  10. Back in 1956 only the wealthy could afford to fly and being wealthy tends to be inversely correlated with being a violent criminal. Also remember that airport metal detectors weren’t just installed for the hell of it. Once people discovered that hijacking an airplane was something you could do everybody and their mother thought it was a great idea to hitch a ride to Cuba. Remember, terrorist attacks in the United States peaked in the early 1970’s. Today they are confined largely to the movie theater.

  11. BTW today when VP Biden travels on Amtrak the Secret Service buys out about half the first class car, but I believe the other passengers are left unmolested so some things really haven’t changed.

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