December 2004 -- Dagny Taggart shoots guns and flies airplanes. These rational survival skills exhilarate all the heroes in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Because I learned to shoot and to fly as a Jewish child during World War II, I confirm that flying and shooting teach the power of the mind to surpass the body's limitations as earth-bound and as vulnerable to vicious thugs. Both flying and shooting require mental and physical discipline, preparation, practice, and bravura technique. A good gun with ammunition extends the reach of the hands of a rational, honest, just, independent person of integrity and initiative who takes pride in living life in liberty. A good aircraft flown with adequate fuel, a map, and clear visibility in open airspace reminds an Objectivist that distance can be vanquished with speed, and that plane perspective from the cockpit depicts that what is, is, that the horrific can be controlled, and that the ordinary can be magnificent.
Dagny flies a sleek single-engine airplane when she chases after the young scientist rebuilding John Galt's miracle motor.
Dagny climbs aboard, touches the starter, and, as the propeller "vanishes in a fragile sparkle of whirling air that cuts the space ahead," accelerates for a forward thrust. The straight line run "gathers power by spending it on a harder and harder and ever-accelerating effort, the straight line to a purpose—to the moment, unnoticed, when the earth drops off and the line, unbroken, goes on into space in the simple, natural act of rising." That is Bernoulli's Law. Dagny later crash-lands that monoplane, confident she will survive, on the hidden mountain runway of Galt's Gulch.
Other heroes fly their own airplanes: Rearden flies his aircraft to Colorado to check the progress of the John Galt Line trains. John Galt flies his silver craft to pick up each entrepreneurial Atlas who shrugs. At the finale, Francisco's airplane, hidden in the brush, takes off after he, Dagny, Rearden, and Danneskjöld rescue imprisoned John Galt. Their ability to compress time and space depends on their skill in piloting a vehicle kept airborne by a whirring motor propelled by fuel and the genius of the minds that made the planes.
Flying and shooting require mental and physical discipline, preparation, practice, and bravura technique.
The muzzle of a gun is the only substitute for men who abandon money. Francisco's famous praise of money condemns looters by law and criminals by right who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed men. Dagny handles a gun with familiar expertise, shooting and killing a recalcitrant guard watching tortured John Galt: "Calmly and impersonally, she, who would have hesitated to fire at an animal, pulled the trigger and fired straight at the heart of a man who had wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness." Just as armed civilians carrying muskets protect the John Galt Line, likewise at the conclusion Reardon's courage and Danneskjold's heroically wielded pistol unshackle John Galt. Defensive shooting, like flying, liberates the ethical shooter from fear and vulnerability and enhances self-esteem by using ingenious tools to soar beyond the body.
Dr. Madeleine Cosman was a medical lawyer based in San Diego, California, director of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, and columnist for The Firing Line. She initiated the Rancho Santa Fe Lady Shooters. She was also a volunteer with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and a federal Community Emergency Response Team member. She lectured worldwide and published numerous books on medical law and on medieval culture. Dr. Cosman passed away in 2006.
This article originally appeared in the December 2004 issue of Navigator magazine, The Atlas Society precursor to The New Individualist.