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"Who would do such a thing?"

by Nicki Fellenzer

September 17, 2002 -- We often hear the words, “gun nut” or “extremist” or “gun hugger” to describe supporters of the Second Amendment. We often hear accusations from anti-freedom types that our guns are somehow a sexual obsession, an extension of ourselves to make up for some sort of lacking in other anatomical or psychological areas. How many times do you hear those unable to formulate a factual argument accuse you of sleeping with your gun, of lovingly stroking your firearm, of dreaming about killing as if you were a hero in a Western, etc. etc. etc.

I’ve heard these names and accusations a thousand times. They don’t bother me. What does bother me is a question I hear quite often: “What kind of person is capable of shooting another human being?”

To answer this question, we must examine each individual situation on its merits. Surely shooting another person cannot be easy. Taking another’s life would emotionally scar any person who possesses a shred of human dignity. This is not something anyone would take lightly, unless one is a criminal or so dehumanized that the concept of “human life” means absolutely nothing to him or her.

So why am I writing on this topic? Because many times I hear gun control proponents draw comparisons between the criminal and the defensive use of firearms. They claim that taking a life is just that, and that more gun violence won’t solve our problems. 

I’m writing this because there must be a clear delineation between taking a life because it fits your needs (drugs, money, power, etc.) and taking a life in defense of yourself and others. 

I’m writing this because I’m sick and tired of having to explain to paranoid, delusional, hoplophobes that doing what you have to do to survive and to protect others is not something that each and every Second Amendment advocate yearns for, dreams about and rejoices over…

…but that many times it’s a traumatic, life-altering event that isn’t to be taken lightly.

Nearly a year ago, in the wake of the monstrous attacks of September 11th and the subsequent debate about arming pilots, I wrote about a hero. His name was William Bonnell, and in July, 1954 this pilot saved a plane full of passengers and crew by shooting dead a hijacker at the Cleveland airport.

The hijacker, if you remember, was fifteen year old Raymond Kuchenmeister, who boarded Bonnell’s plane with a stolen pistol and demanded to be taken to Mexico – a flight that would have likely ended in tragedy for the 58 men, women and children aboard had it not been for one pilot who made a fateful decision to shoot this young man.

Many cowardly, spineless emotionalists would condemn Bill Bonnell for doing what he did. After all, he shot a teenager, right? What kind of man would shoot a kid?

Well, let me tell you what kind of man and what kind of “kid” this was.

Raymond Kuchenmeister was 6’5” tall and weighed over 250 pounds. He was by all standards a large man, who, according to reports, had to be removed from the airplane by four men and some baggage-moving equipment. He was a threatening presence – intimidating and aggressive both due to his size and the stolen gun he was brandishing. 

This “kid” had a rap sheet. He was disavowed by his own family, who upon learning of this latest turn of events and the teenager’s death hadn’t even planned on holding a funeral service for him. 

This young man had a stolen gun and was trying to use it to force the pilots to make a flight to Mexico with an insufficient amount of fuel – a trip that would have undoubtedly killed all aboard. This “kid” spent nearly an hour in the cockpit, threatening Bonnell and his co-pilot, while Bonnell taxied all over the airport, fearing that if he took off, everyone aboard the airplane would die. He pulled his gun as a last resort.

This is the type of “kid” that, according to some, it was wrong to shoot. What kind of man would shoot a teenager – an obviously troubled youth barely older than his own son?

Bill Bonnell was so deeply affected by this tragedy, he never fired that gun again. He was an expert marksman, but he never again picked up a firearm. The overwhelming decision he had to make that day saved lives, but had a profound effect on his own emotional well-being. 

Bill Bonnell was the only pilot available to make the scheduled flight that day, so even though he was obviously shaken by the earlier events, he was forced to make the return flight from Cleveland to Fort Worth. 

Upon learning that Kuchenmeister died en route to the hospital, Bill Bonnell returned to Cleveland and contacted the teenager’s family. No funeral service was planned by the family of Raymond Kuchenmeister, and William Bonnell – a father himself, a pilot, and a hero who was forced to do the unthinkable – paid for a funeral service and the burial for a disturbed youth who nearly killed him, his crew, and the men, women and children aboard his plane.

He didn’t consider himself a hero. This was an incident that had changed him – profoundly so – and he didn’t speak of it much to anyone. Those who knew him, those who were on that plane July 6, 1954, friends and family knew how deeply Bill Bonnell cared – how profoundly he was affected by what he had to do – he was a hero. But he was a hero who never got over having to shoot a man at close range – a teenager who was threatening to kill a plane full of innocent people.

Yes, Raymond Kuchenmeister was a teenager. Was he beyond hope? Was he irreparable? We’ll never know. 

We do know that he had been in trouble before. 

We do know that he stole a gun and pointed it at the crew of the airplane, fully intending to hijack the airliner to Mexico. 

We do know that a plane full of innocent men, women and children would have died had Kuchenmeister forced the pilots to fly to Mexico.

And we do know that the only person who cared enough – who was affected enough by the events of July 6, 1954 to give a would-be hijacker a proper funeral and burial was the man who was forced to shoot him dead as a last resort.

Those are the details that aren’t common knowledge. Those are the details the anti-freedom news media and Sarah Brady would rather you didn’t know. They would rather you didn’t know that the kind of man who would shoot a teenager trying to hijack a full plane was also a decent, compassionate and caring human being. 

They would rather give the impression that shooting a “kid” – under any circumstances – is wrong, and that the person who would do such a thing is either worthy of your scorn or isn’t worthy of your attention at all.

They would rather you not know the fine details about a man who was forced to do what many of us hope and pray we’ll never have to – a man who was profoundly affected by what he had to do, but had always believed he did the right thing that day. 

That man was Captain William “Bill” Bonnell – marksman, father and hero.